What is FDM 3D Printing?

Do you know what is FDM 3D printing? Read our comprehensive guide for an introduction and explanation to this technology that is popular in the 3D printing industry.

What is FDM 3D Printing?

FDM, or FFF technology, involves the creation of objects through layering of molten material. FDM is an abbreviation for fused deposition modeling.

how fdm 3d printing works

How FDM works may sound complicated. However, the 3D printing technology is actually simple.

Basically, think of it the way a hot melt glue gun works. From one side, a thermoplastic or any other material is pushed. When pushed through the gun nozzle, the material melts from heat and when it comes out, it solidifies without losing its properties.

The same applies with FDM technology. However, this time, instead of a hot melt glue gun, we have a 3D printer. The thermoplastic passes through the hot nozzle of the 3D printer, melts and hardens immediately.

The printer’s extruder and the table are driven by stepper motors, leaving plastic behind them, layer by layer. The extruded molten plastic is layered on top of each other, from bottom to top. In turn, this creates a 3D model.

What is MJM Technology?

MJM technology can be thought of as an analogue FDM. However, instead of molten plastic, MJM uses wax or photopolymer. On the print head, there are many small nozzles (from 96 to 448) through which melted wax or drops of photopolymer is fed. These materials are immediately illuminated by a lamp.

Material Used to Make 3D Printed Models

In FDM 3D printing. the material used to make models is a plastic thread. This thread is known as a filament.

There are different types of filaments on the market. The filaments are available in 2 diameters; 1.75mm and 2.85mm. The later is usually referred to as 3mm filament.

3D printers that use 3mm filament are rare. The most famous of these printers are the Ultimaker models and their clones. Majority of 3D printers use 1.75 filament for printing.

The first material used for 3D printing was welding filament with a diameter of 3mm. Therefore, for a long time., 3mm was the standard size of 3D printing filaments.

Before printing, a 3D model is prepared using a slicer program. The slicer divides the model into layers and prepares commands for moving the print head. The sliced model can be saved in different formats, However, the default format is GCode. Therefore, in principle, the printer is a CNC machine.

To learn more about slicers, check the following guides:

History of FDM 3D Printing

FDM 3D printing process was invented by S. Scott Crump, the founder of Stratasy, at the end of 1980. Crump received a patent in 1988. In 1990, Stratasys unveiled its first industrial 3D printer using FDM technology.

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Scott Crump is one of the founders of Stratasys.

The first 3D printers were rather expensive industrial machines intended for large companies. However, things began to change in 2006 after the founding of the RepRap project (from the English Replicating Rapid Prototyper – a self-replicating mechanism for rapid prototyping).

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The first version of the RepRap 3D printer.

The goal of the RepRap project was to create a self-copying 3D printer.

Shafts were used as a frame and guides and almost all parts were connected with printed parts. The extruder and table were driven by stepper motors and the source code was open source. Of course, visually, the 3D printer looked like a homemade product from scrap materials. However, the most important thing is that it worked. The printer used about 50% of the printed parts.

Since the term FDM was patented by Stratasys, 3D printing enthusiasts and RepRap contributors coined their own term, FFF. This stands for fused filament fabrication. The meaning is the same, but it helps to avoid legal problems.

As RepRap evolved, OpenSource projects began to evolve. The most prominent representative of the OpenSource movement is MakerBot.

In addition to developing its 3D printer, MakerBot is actively developing the Thingiverse website. Thingiverse has a huge number of free 3D print-ready models.

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MakerBot founders Zach Smith and Bre Pettis with final prototypes of MakerBot Cupcake.

Ultimaker should be singled out separately. The idea of RepRap was that the printer was supposed to reproduce itself. However, Ultimaker chose a different path. The founders designed their printer from laser cut plywood parts. This unit turned out to be much faster and more affordable than making printed parts.

In 2013, the first Ultimaker Original was released. It was sold as a kit that had to be assembled by the user.

All drawings and developments were posted on the internet. This made it possible for anyone from anywhere who wished to purchase the necessary components and electronics, order cutting of the case and some units to assemble their own printer.

After assembly, it was possible to print upgrades on the same printer and replace the plywood parts with plastic ones.

Ultimaker quickly developed a large and friendly community. Many free 3D models of various Ultimaker Original nodes have been posted online. There were many upgrades; many unpleasant “sores” of the structure were removed.

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Plywood Ultimaker Original

In addition to Ultimaker 3D printers, based on Replicator-G, a 3D printing slicer known as CURA was developed. Due to its versatility and affordability, CURA has become a favorite among 3D makers and is rated one of the best 3D slicers.

The video below covers in detail the history of FDM 3D printing.

Apart from Ultimaker printers, a bunch of ready-made profiles for other 3D printers have been set in Cura. It is also easy to set up CURA for a self-assembled printer.

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Modern CURA

There were many more projects, large and small, that contributed to the emergence of 3D printing. However, it was the RepRap and OpenSource projects that made FDM 3D printing more affordable.

Over time, 3D printers as well as their consumables have become more affordable. Today, you will find 3D printers in all price ranges, including under $200, $300, $400, $500, $1000 and more.

There are, several differences between FDM and FFF technology. The main one is the presence of a heated chamber for more stable printing. FFF enthusiasts abandoned it in order to reduce the cost of manufacturing 3D printers. Later, some printers were shipped with a closed case. Together with the heated table, a passive heating chamber is obtained.

Pros and Cons of FDM 3D Printing

Advantages of FDM 3D Printing

1. Affordability

The biggest advantage of FDM printing is affordability. The cost of a home printer is comparable to that of a smartphone. Also, with a very limited budget, you can find OpenSource projects and build the printer yourself.

2. A wide variety of models

You can easily choose a printer for a specific task. For example, the Flashforge Adventurer 3, thanks to its closed case and lack of a heating table, will be an excellent gift for a child. Anycubic Mega is perfect for a person who loves upgrades and experiments. And Raise3D Pro2 Plus is suitable for production tasks.

3. Variety of materials for 3D printing

In addition to standard ABS and PLA, there is a wide variety of plastics that are used in FDM 3D printing. For example, we have decorative plastics infused with various materials.

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Decorative plastics imitating copper and bronze.

There are also engineering plastics, which have improved physical and mechanical properties. These materials can be used for 3D printing prototyping to create functional products.

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Example of 3D printed functional items

There are also special plastics made for specific tasks. For example, there is low ash burned or lost wax plastics.

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Billet, cast according to the 3D model

Disadvantages of FDM 3D Printing

But there are also disadvantages.

1. Low accuracy compared to other printing technologies

The discrepancy with the 3D model is usually not more than 0.1 mm. The discrepancy value depends on the mechanics of the printer and characteristics of the material. For ordinary gears and household needs, this accuracy is quite enough. However, in some industries (for example, jewelry), the accuracy of the finished model should be higher.

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2. Layered surface

It is impossible to get a perfectly smooth surface on an FDM 3D printer. However, the layers on the model can be smoothed out by sanding, filling or solvent treatment.

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On the left is a printed model on an FDM 3D printer, and on the right is the same model after processing.

Applications of FDM 3D Printing

Due to the wide variety of printers and FDM materials available, 3D printing has a very wide range of applications. These include:

Prototyping

The most popular application of 3D printing is in prototyping. FDM printing made it much faster and easier to create test models and mechanisms.

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From 3D printed model to finished product

FDM printing allows you to quickly prototype anything and quickly make edits.

Medicine

In medicine, using 3D printers, they began to create comfortable, breathable orthoses for fixing fractures.

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3D printed brace

Printed orthoses can be fixed faster than the classic plaster cast. Moreover, the process is less laborious and messy.

3D printing allows the creation of simple traction mechanical prostheses. This is especially true for children. After all, children grow up quickly and they need to change their prosthesis frequently. Thanks to FDM printing, the process of creating a prosthesis has been made cheaper and faster.

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Pediatric Traction Prosthesis

The prostheses are lighter and more comfortable than the traditional prosthetics.

Learn more about the application of 3D printing in medicine.

Film Industry

In the film industry, FDM printing is used to print props and costume items, masks, mechanisms and other items.

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Geisha robot from the movie “Ghost in the Shell”

Sometimes 3D printing is used to create small prototypes of models at a reduced scale for more accurate calculation of proportions, setting scenes, lighting and further rendering.

Hobbies

FDM printers have helped to simplify the creation of RC models of boats, toy cars, aircraft and their spare parts.

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RU plane, printed on a 3D printer

There have even appeared sites with models of radio-controlled aircraft and cars adapted for 3D printing.

Cosplayers also love 3D printing due to the variety of materials and the faster and easier production of masks, functional elements, and some parts of the armor.

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Cosplay from the movie “Pacific Rim-2”

Previously, it was a long and painstaking process to select the material, prepare patterns, carefully prepare the surface for priming and painting. With FDM 3D printing, you can create a 3D model of the desired costume, adjust it to the figure of the cosplayer and print it. The production of complex, moving elements and parts of mechanisms has been simplified.

See the best 3D printers for cosplay costumes.

Layout

In prototyping, 3D printers have sped up the creation of complex layouts of buildings and landscapes several times. Previously, many elements had to be painstakingly hand-made.

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Quarter layout

A 3D physical model helps the customer to fully see the future object, compared to what can be seen in a digital environment. Also, if needed, you can quickly change the layout.

Small Batch Printing

If you need a small batch of items, for example, key rings with a company logo. it is faster and cheaper to print it on a 3D printer.

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Small batch of spare parts

Making a master model with subsequent casting is a laborious and expensive process. If a part has a complex shape with various projections and undercuts, then casting may not be possible. A 3D printer can easily cope with this task.

Learn more about small batch 3D printing.

Education

The use of 3D printers in the educational process allows students to develop imaginative thinking. The printers also help to make the learning process more visual. For example, it is difficult to notice flaws of a part on paper. However, when you create a test part, you can clearly see all the flaws.

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Children assemble a 3D printer

In robotics, a 3D printer allows you to quickly create various mechanisms and simple robots.

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Child assembles a robot in a robotics circle

3D printing is becoming popular for creating visual aids. For example, for visually impaired or blind children, they “see” with their hands. Thanks to 3D printed models, they can more fully perceive information.

See the best 3D printers for high schools.

For Home Use

At home, a 3D printer can turn out to be more than just a toy. It can also be a useful tool. For example, you can use it to repair household appliances. In some household appliances, plastic gears are erased or broken by stress. Replacement can be easily fabricated using 3D printing.

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Printed and original gears

You can also print interior items: stands, vases, lamps, small boxes. You will only be limited by your 3D modeling skills and imagination.

See the best 3D printers for home use.

Conclusion

FDM printing technology is very versatile, thanks to the wide variety of 3D printers and materials available. If you would like to get started with the technology, it’s important to choose the right 3D printer.

Today, FDM has already found many areas of application. Year to year, FDM 3D printers are becoming faster and more accurate. The software is constantly updated so that the novice user can easily get started with printing.

There are also dozens of materials used for FDM 3D printing. These materials help to create more accurate and durable products.

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