Fused Deposition Modeling, or FDM, is a layer additive manufacturing process that uses production-grade thermoplastic materials to produce both prototype and end-use parts. This technology is known to accurately produce feature details and has an excellent strength-to-weight ratio. FDM is ideal for concept models, functional prototypes, manufacturing aids and low-volume end-use parts.
The FDM process begins by “slicing” 3D CAD data into layers. The data is then transferred to a machine which constructs the part layer by layer upon a build platform. Thin thread-like spools of thermoplastic and support material are used to create each cross-section of the part. Similar to a hot melt glue gun, uncoiled material is slowly extruded through duel heated nozzles. The extrusion nozzles precisely lay down both support and thermoplastic material upon the preceding layers. The extrusion nozzle continues to move in a horizontal X-Y plane while the build platform moves down, building the part layer by layer. The finished part is removed from the build platform and cleaned of its support material.
Raw FDM parts have visible layer lines. However, service providers such as Solid Concepts offer multiple finishing options to create smooth, even surfaced parts including hand sanding, assembly and cosmetic paint.
Since FDM parts are constructed with production-grade thermoplastics including ABS, Polycarbonate and Ultem, they are both functional and durable. FDM is utilized in a number of industries including aerospace, automotive, industrial, commercial and medical.