Additive Manufacturing Spotlight: Fused Deposition Modeling

FDM 3D Printing

Additive Manufacturing Spotlight: Fused Deposition Modeling

Are you familiar with the different types of 3D printing technology available for your parts and products? If acronyms like SLA, SLS, DMLS, and DLP leave your head spinning, Alchemy Industrial is here to help you sort through the chaos.

In this new series, we’ll spotlight different additive manufacturing technologies—beginning with Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM), sometimes called Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF). 

FDM is the 3D printing process of the people. It’s used in classrooms and homes around the country for education and recreation alike. But its uses extend far beyond these settings. Our industrial Roboze 3D printers are capable of producing high-strength and precision parts for major industries like aerospace and automotive. 

What Exactly Is FDM 3D Printing?

The FDM process involves extruding melted plastic filament layer by layer to create a 3D printed part. Parts must be designed within the filament’s parameters. If, for instance, you were to design a part with fine features that are thinner than the filament itself (0.010”), the features wouldn’t resolve properly and you would get a lower quality part. 

FDM parts are extremely rigid, especially compared to parts made using the Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) process. FDM parts also typically require support materials for certain features, so you’ll need to account for these supports during design.

How Does the FDM Printing Process Work?

At Alchemy Industrial, our FDM printing process involves three critical steps:

  • Pre-processing: Our printer software slices 3D CAD files into layers. For each slice, the software then converts the data into machine code that determines tool paths for the machine to follow.
  • Production: An extruder head extrudes liquefied plastic filament along the tool path layer by layer until the part is completed bottom-up.
  • Post-processing: We remove support materials by dissolving them in water or carefully breaking them off. We then apply any custom finishing elements such as tapping holes or adding inserts. FDM almost always requires some form of post-processing. 

FDM Printing for Aerospace and Automotive Applications

FDM printing is an effective manufacturing solution across multiple industries, with notable use cases in aerospace and automotive. 

One major benefit of FDM is its compatibility with high-performance materials (e.g. Ultem, ASA, PPSF). The ability to quickly print parts using engineering-grade materials enables rapid prototype development, allowing companies like BMW and Ford to conduct highly accurate testing and get their parts to market faster than ever.

Aerospace engineers are increasingly leveraging FDM printing technology in similar ways. FDM parts are known for being both lightweight and strong—two properties that are key for aerospace applications. 

When leveraged thoughtfully, FDM is a time and cost-effective outsourced manufacturing solution for many different parts and products. Alchemy Industrial can help you maximize the benefits this technology can offer you. Check out our latest e-book to learn more.