FDM builds concept models, functional prototypes and end-use parts in standard, engineering-grade and high-performance thermoplastics. It’s the only professional 3D printing technology that uses production-grade thermoplastics, so parts are superior in mechanical, thermal and chemical strength.
How FDM Works
3D printers that run on FDM Technology build parts layer-by-layer by heating thermoplastic material to a semi-liquid state and extruding it according to computer-controlled paths. FDM uses two materials to execute a print job: modeling material, which constitutes the finished piece, and support material, which acts as scaffolding. Material filaments are fed from the 3D printer’s material bays to the print head, which moves in X and Y coordinates, depositing material to complete each layer before the base moves down the Z axis and the next layer begins.
FDM is a clean, simple-to-use, office-friendly 3D printing process. Thermoplastic parts can endure exposure to heat, chemicals, humid or dry environments, and mechanical stress. Soluble support materials make it possible to produce complex geometries and cavities that would be difficult to build with traditional manufacturing methods.
FDM process Overview
The FDM process begins in one of two build-preparation programs, Catalyst EX or Insight. In operation, your first step is to import a design file, pick options, and create slices (layers). The preprocessing software calculates sections and "slices" the part design into many layers, ranging from 0.005 inches (0.127 mm) to 0.013 inches (0.3302 mm) in height. Using the sectioning data, the software then generates "tool paths" or building instructions which will drive the extrusion head. This step is automatic when using Catalyst EX. Next send the job to the 3D printer.
Press “print” to start the building process. Two materials, one to make the part, and one to support it, enter the extrusion head. Heat is applied to soften the plastics, which are extruded in a ribbon, roughly the size of a human hair. Alternating between part material and support material, the system deposits layers as thin as 0.005 inch (0.13mm).
When the part is complete, open the chamber and remove it. Finish up by either washing or stripping away the support material that held the part in place.