The FDM Manufacturing Process

Updated: Feb 8, 2019

Fused filament fabrication (FFF), also known under the trademarked term fused deposition modeling (FDM), sometimes also called filament freeform fabrication, is a 3D Printing process that uses a continuous filament of a thermoplastic material. Filament is fed from a large coil through a moving, heated printer extruder head, and is deposited on the growing work. The print head is moved under computer control to define the printed shape. Usually the head moves in two dimensions to deposit one horizontal plane, or layer, at a time; the work or the print head is then moved vertically by a small amount to begin a new layer. The speed of the extruder head may also be controlled to stop and start deposition and form an interrupted plane without stringing or dribbling between sections. "Fused filament fabrication" was coined by the members of the RepRap project to give a phrase that would be legally unconstrained in its use, given patents covering "fused deposition modeling"

Our Manufacturing Process

Most items are manufactured on demand in our production facility leveraging over 10 industrial grade fused deposition modeling material extrusion systems. All of our manufactured products are proudly Made in the USA using premium quality materials.If the purchaser desires they may leverage various refinishing techniques of their own to put a custom look on any of our products.

Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM), or Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF), is an additive manufacturing process that belongs to the material extrusion family. In FDM, an object is built by selectively depositing melted material in a pre-determined path layer-by-layer. The materials used are thermoplastic polymers and come in a filament form. Moreover, since the molten material is pressed against the previous layer, its shape is deformed to an oval. This means that FDM parts will always have a wavy surface, even for low layer hieght, and that small features, such as small holes or threads may need to be post processed after printing. FDM parts can be finished to a very high standard using various post-processing methods, such as sanding and polishing, priming and painting, cold welding, vapor smoothing, epoxy coating and metal plating. 

Material Extrusion

Fused filament fabrication uses material extrusion to print items, where a feedstock material is pushed through an extruder. In most fused filament fabrication 3D printing machines, the feedstock material comes in the form of a filament wound onto a spool.

The 3D printer liquefier is the component predominantly used in this type of printing. Extruders for these printers have a cold end and a hot end. The cold end pulls material from the spool, using gear- or roller-based torque to the material and controlling the feed rate by means of a stepper motor. The cold end pushes feedstock into the hot end. The hot end consists of a heating chamber and a nozzle. The heating chamber hosts the liquefier, which melts the feedstock to transform it into a thin liquid. It allows the molten material to exit from the small nozzle to form a thin, tacky bead of plastic that will adhere to the material it is laid on. The nozzle will usually have a diameter of between 0.3 mm and 1.0 mm. Different types of nozzles and heating methods are used depending upon the material to be printed.

Variants of the Process

  • Hot extrusion of rods. In these types of 3d printing machines, the feedstock is in form of a rod instead of a filament. Since the rod is thicker than the filament, it can be pushed towards the hot end by means of a piston or rollers, applying a greater force and/or velocity compared to conventional FFF.

  • Cold extrusion of slurries. In these types of 3D printing machines, the feedstock comes in form of a slurry, a paste or a clay—all of which are viscous suspension of solid powder particles in a liquid medium, which is dried after deposition. In this case, the material is generally pushed towards the nozzle by the action of a piston, and the nozzle is not heated. Paste-like materials such as ceramics and chocolate can be extruded using the fused filament process and a specialized paste extruder.

  • Hot extrusion of pellets. In these types of 3d printing machines the feedstock comes in form of pellets, i.e. small granules of thermoplastic material or mixtures of thermoplastic binder with powder fillers. The material is pushed towards the nozzle by the action of a piston or a rotating screw, which are contained by an extrusion barrel. In this case the whole extrusion barrel is heated, along with the nozzle.

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