Choosing a 3D Printer – Why FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling)
Selecting a 3D printer is much like choosing your car. While the initial cost is generally your first criteria, as you explore options, features, safety, reliability, maintenance, etc. your focus often shifts from “cost” to “value”. Value often includes extra or ‘non-tangible’ benefits beyond the physical dollars.
Some of the value questions you should be asking about 3D Printers are: Is the technology proven? Is the technology safe? Will the technology support versatile applications? What is the learning curve? Will I have technical and equipment support?
Let’s address each of these questions:
Is the technology proven?
Fused Deposition Modeling or FDM was invented in 1988 and has become the most recognizable technology in the 3D printer industry. There are many imitators, most ‘hobby’ machines utilize Fused Filament Fabrication or FFF, but lack the experience and engineering background of Stratasys. For example, imitators use a heated platen to build upon. The heated platen does not transfer heat as the build progresses in the Z-axis and delamination or separation of layers often result. Stratasys FDM technology utilizes a heated chamber, so that the first layer has the same bonding strength as the last layer, providing a more consistent and accurate part.
In addition, Stratasys FDM equipment uses 2 independent extrusion tips to build; 1 tip for the model material and 1 tip for support material. This makes cleaning the parts easier to separate support material from the part, often the support material is soluble and can wash away.
Stratasys FDM offers a wide range of build envelopes, from 5 x 5 x 5 inches to 36 x 24 x 36 inches to accommodate numerous industries and applications.
Is the technology safe?
FDM is one of the few ‘Office Friendly’ technologies. It does not require lasers, vats of carcinogenic liquid, explosive powders, etc. The cleaning process is environmentally green as well: all chemicals in post-processing can be neutralized to a PH level for waste water. The safety of FDM has made it the most imitated 3D Printing technology for home use by numerous FFF machines.
Will the technology support versatile applications?
Versatility of applications often start with material properties. FDM uses engineered thermoplastics to create parts allowing you to simulate real properties of end item production parts. Thermoplastics such as ABS, ASA, PC, Nylon, Ultem, Carbon Fiber Nylon and more.
These materials allow for testing and production of more than just prototypes and communication models, but rather lend themselves to a wide range of applications such as: Inspection tooling, Manufacturing fixtures, Thermoforming tooling, Hydroforming tooling, Sand Casting tooling, Investment Casting patterns, Fiberglas or Carbon Wrap layup tools, RTV Silicon master pattern, Soluble Cores, etc.
What is the learning curve?
Basic training is provided with installation of the machine. Building is as easy as selecting material, choosing parameters (build layers, solid or open part density, support style), positioning the part and pressing the start button. However, higher end FDM machines will also come with advanced software that will allow you to customize layers, individual features and edit supports. Advanced training is available from CATI with Stratasys Certified Trainers.
Will I have technical and equipment support?
CATI provides your first tier of support with a staff of Application Engineers and Service Technicians to aid in providing you with the best possible part for your specific needs. CATI’s Engineers and Technicians are certified by Stratasys and have years of experience. As a second tier of support, Stratasys also has a group of Application Engineers dedicated to developing new or unique applications as well as Service Technicians to maintain your equipment.
If you have additional questions, please contact us at Computer Aided Technology, LLC
Sr. Application Engineer, Additive Manufacturing
Computer Aided Technology, LLC