There are several different methods of 3D Printing, but the most widely used is a process known as Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM). FDM printers use a thermoplastic filament heated to its melting point and then extruded, layer by layer, to create a three-dimensional object.
Here is how the FDM fabrication process works:
I. A spool of thermoplastic filament is first loaded into the printer. Once the nozzle has reached the desired temperature, the filament is fed to the extrusion head and in the nozzle where it melts.
II. The extrusion head is attached to a 3-axis system that allows it to move in the X, Y, and Z directions. The melted material is extruded in thin strands and is deposited layer-by-layer in predetermined locations, where it cools and solidifies. Sometimes the cooling of the material is accelerated through cooling fans attached to the extrusion head.
III. To fill an area, multiple passes are required (similar to coloring a rectangle with a marker). When a layer is finished, the build platform moves down (or in other machine setups, the extrusion head moves up), and a new layer is deposited. This process is repeated until the part is complete.
FDM is the most cost-effective way of producing custom thermoplastic parts and prototypes.
The lead times of FDM are short (as fast as next-day delivery) due to the high availability of the technology.
A wide range of thermoplastic materials is available, suitable for both prototyping and some non-commercial functional applications.
|Service||Lead Times||Materials||Tolerances||Max Part Size|
|SLA||1 – 3 days||Resin / Somos||+/- 0.003 in.||800 x 800 x 550 mm|
|SLS||2 – 5 days||PA12/ PA12GB||+/- 0.002 in.||350 x 350 x 400 mm|
|MJF||2 – 5 days||PA12/ PA12GB||+/- 0.002 in.||380 x 280 x 380 mm|
|FDM||2 – 5 days||PLA / ABS||+/- 0.003 in.||500 x 500 x 400 mm|
|Poly Jet||2 – 5 days||Resin||+/- 0.003 in.||490 x 390 x 200 mm|