The 3D printing technology called Fused Deposition Modeling builds prototypes, layer by layer, by utilizing two heated extruding nozzle heads. One nozzle extrudes the main prototype material such as ABS, polycarbonates or wax, which is fed off of a spool, and a second nozzle with a support material that is removed once the build is complete. This process can be likened to how a hot glue gun extrudes melted glue but on a much finer, more precise scale. In other words, this process extrudes the material to make a solid part.

The generic terminology for this process is referred to as Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF). There are a growing number of companies making 3D printing machines based on the original FDM 3D printing technology, that appeal to the needs of hobbyists and crafters.

FDM 3D Printing Process:

  • The STL CAD file is sliced into layers (can vary from .005”/.127 mm – .0010”/.254mm thick layers-dependent on machine capabilities)
  • The building platform drops down by one layer of thickness
  • With one nozzle the first layer of model is extruded (drawn) onto the platform and simultaneously supports are drawn with the second nozzle
  • The part model cross section is filled in with lines of extruded material from the main nozzle
  • The process is repeated for subsequent layers, platform dropping as the next layer is applied to the previous layer
  • Upon completion, the model is taken from the platform where the supports are removed and is ready for use

The generic terminology for this process is referred to as Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF). There are a growing number of companies making 3D printing machines based on the original FDM 3D printing technology, that appeal to the needs of hobbyists and crafters.

FDM Printing in Laymen’s Terms:

FDM 3D Printing StairsJust like every other form of 3D printing, the 3D drawing is first sliced into horizontal layers using computer software and downloaded to the machine.

FDM technology is based on the use of two separately heated nozzle heads (similar to very fine hot glue guns) with materials such as ABS or polycarbonate which is fed off spools and extruded one layer at a time. One nozzle extrudes the main material that the prototype part will be built with (such as ABS) and the second nozzle provides a different support material that is removed after. The support material is needed to keep the part material in position as it cools down. For example, if you were to quickly build a 4-sided box with a hot glue gun one layer at a time, the walls would slump and droop if each layer wasn’t fully cooled.

Once the part has fully built and cooled down, the support material is removed leaving your final part ready for use.

As FDM parts and SLS parts are often both white in colour, they can sometimes be confused with each other. However the processes and final parts do have significant differences that could greatly impact your project.

Learn more about the differences on our SLS vs. FDM page.

FDM Advantages:

  • Can quickly build one or a few pieces at a time
  • More durable than an SLA prototypes due to material options
  • Has some functionality due to the nature of ABS material and offers coloured materials

FDM Disadvantages:

  • Rough surface finish (you can easily see the extrusion layers and at times, where the supports once existed)
  • Only one or a few can be built at a time
  • Detail is difficult to capture due to the nature of the process

To learn more about how your prototype can be produced, please visit our 3D printing technologies page or contact us for more information.