FDM Printing: An introduction to the process

Fused Deposition Modelling or Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF), the most common 3D printing process, is a material extrusion type additive manufacturing process. S.Scott Crump, the Stratasys founder, first developed and patented the process in 1988. And when the patent expired in 2009, it paved the way for commercial FDM printers.

Tangible Creative has over 100 FDM 3D printers in our Newark, New Jersey Warehouse. By utilizing our full wall of printers we can produce thousands of 3D Printed parts.

The Process:

In FDM / FFF printing, a 3D object is created from thermoplastic materials which are deposited layer by layer onto the printer bed. This material is melted and deposited continuously from an extrusion nozzle. The material is in the form of a filament that is fed to a moving heated nozzle.

Subsequently, a 3D model determines the path of the nozzle/extruder. To create this path, first, the CAD software converts the CAD file to a .STL file. This done by dividing the 3D model into multiple 2D layers and converting it into closed contours, generally to triangles. This is a crucial step in the 3D printing process because the number of triangles determines the print quality. For instance, the higher the number of triangles in a layer, the higher will be the file resolution. This will create a high-quality print. General process of 3D printing

Second, the .STL file is converted into G-code. This process is called slicing and is performed by the slicer software. The G-code is the file format read by the printer that guides the printer where to print. At last, the g-code is provided to the 3D printer and we are ready to hit print.

Things to keep in mind:

Layer thickness: It dictates the quality and resolution of the part. Each printer has a minimum layer thickness which is the diameter of the nozzle of the FDM printer. The lower the number, the better the details on the part. On the other hand, this will increase the print time. Hence, depending on the part, the layer thickness should be carefully selected.

Our FDM/FFF printers can print with a minimum layer thickness of 0.1mm and a maximum of 0.5mm.

Support structure: Only overhangs of more than 45° angle need support structures. Generally, it should be avoided because it increases the print time and creates material wastage. Hence, to avoid support structures, redesigning the CAD model, or simply changing the orientation of the part could help.

Build Size: The size of the printer limits the size of the part. Hence, before starting the print, the printer size should be considered. The maximum build size we offer is 400mm × 400mm × 450mm.

FDM Printing Materials:

ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene): ABS is a thermoplastic with high impact strength. It is tough and impact-resistant but also prone to warping. Also, ABS is non-biodegradable. Hence, in most cases, ABS should be avoided.

PLA (Polylactic acid): A biodegradable thermoplastic with high tensile strength. In FDM printing, it is the preferred material for everyday printing and prototyping because it is nature-friendly. 3D-printed parts made of PLA can be biodegraded within a year, given the right environment.

TPU (Thermoplastic polyurethane): A thermoplastic elastomer with medium tensile strength and high flexibility. We specialize in TPU printing and

PETG (Polyethylene terephthalate glycol): A thermoplastic polyester with high impact strength and ductility.

Specialized materials: Apart from the mentioned materials, we also offer specialized materials like polycarbonate (PC), metal-filled filaments, etc.