What is FDM technology and how does it work?

By Andrew Miller on

Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) 3D printing is probably the most common and highly adopted form of 3D printing. When you picture 3D printing or additive manufacturing, FDM is likely the technology that first comes to mind. FDM is extrusion based, which means plastic is heated until it becomes semi-liquid and is extruded along computer-controlled tool paths to build objects layer-by-layer.

The FDM Origin Story

Scott Crump filed for patent of FDM technology in 1989. Scott Crump was making a frog toy for his daughter using a glue gun filled with candle wax and polyethylene. During this project he had an idea to automate the process and fused deposition modeling was born. Scott Crump would go on to co-found Stratasys alongside his wife Lisa Crump. The patent application was granted in 1992 and Stratasys sold its first printer, the 3D Modeler, the same year. FDM technology isn’t new, its proven technology that can benefit numerous industries.

FDM process

Top 5 Industries for FDM 3D Printers >>

How does FDM technology work?

The workflow for all 3D printing is very similar. You start with a 3D model created in CAD (computer aided design) software, such as SOLIDWORKS. That 3D model is then opened in software that slices the model and creates toolpaths for the printer. The slicing software is where all of your printing parameters are decided. These parameters include layer height, infill style and density, body thickness, support settings, etc.

Stratasys printers utilize GrabCAD Print. The software can work with numerous file formats including native CAD files. This file is sent to the printer and the part creation starts. This is where the different printer technologies deviate from one another. FDM printers heat and extrude plastic filament through a nozzle that builds the part up layer-by-layer. The plastic filament comes on a spool that looks similar to weed trimmer line. All FDM printers use thermoplastics, a type of plastic that becomes pliable at a higher temperature and solidifies when it cools. Unlike thermoset plastics, thermoplastics can be used again and again. There are numerous materials available for FDM printing from standard plastics like ABS and ASA to high performance plastics that have advanced properties like ULTEM 1010.

Example FDM parts

Why use FDM?

FDM technology has a wide range of uses that include prototyping, jigs and fixtures, end of arm tools (end effectors), low-volume production parts, sand casting patterns, aerospace, automotive and the list goes on. Complex geometries that would be impossible or very difficult and expensive to create with traditional manufacturing can be created simply with FDM technology. FDM is office friendly and easy to use. The F123 series of printers from Stratasys offer industrial capabilities along with user-friendly operation.

FDM F370 3D printer

If you are interested in adding FDM capabilities to your workflow we have an experienced team ready to answer your questions. Contact us today!

Want to learn more? Watch our on-demand webinar “Understanding the Potential of Additive Manufacturing – FDM Technology”.