Traditional methods of manufacturing can be an expensive and timely process.
With the advancement of technology in recent decades, there’s now an arguably better, more efficient, and cost-effective solution to the traditional manufacturing process.
Fused Deposition Modelling has revolutionised the design process, allowing companies and individuals alike to create unique pieces of work at a fraction of the cost and in a shorter period of time.
Let's take a look at what Fused Deposition Modelling is, how it can be used, and what the future looks like for FDM technology.
What is Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM)?
Fused Deposition Modelling or FDM in short, is a 3D printing technique that is used to manufacture plastic-based materials and products. It is a form of additive manufacturing technology used within the 3D printing sector.
Fused Deposition Modelling uses a thermoplastic material that creates 3D products through an extruder that layers the filament until the structure is fully developed.
FDM printers are now commonplace and can be used by both hobbyists and professionals alike.
How Does FDM Work?
FDM works by the user creating digital designs which are then uploaded onto the FDM machine which then turns the digital design into physical dimensions, ready for printing.
An FDM printer uses molten plastic material which is fed through a nozzle. This filament material is extruded by the printer extrusion head into small strands which follows the design uploaded onto the printer.
The extruded melted material cools and solidifies, which creates a strong and sturdy end result.
Advantages of Fused Deposition Modelling
- Low cost - in comparison to traditional manufacturing methods, FDM is budget friendly with many people using it in their own homes.
- Quick production times - projects can be completed as quickly as a few minutes or may take several hours. In comparison to traditional methods, FDM is a quicker process.
- Wide range of choice - there are many filament options to choose from including different colours to suit each project.
Disadvantages of Fused Deposition Modelling
- May require many attempts - FDM can be a tricky process, especially for beginners. Some projects may not turn out as expected, creating an uneven or wavy surface. These abnormalities might need to be smoothed or filled to achieve the required result.
- Breakdowns - FDM can cause nozzle clogging, meaning more downtime for the machine whilst repairs are being carried out.
- Regular Calibration Required - You may find you need to calibrate after every few projects. This is to ensure your machine is aligned and if you don’t do this you run the risk of distorting your next project.
Applications of Fused Deposition Modelling
FDM printing has a variety of uses, with many industries now looking for cost-effective and quicker alternatives within their design process. Let’s take a look at 5 of the best fused deposition modelling applications.
NASCAR and Formula 1 teams are seeing the impact that 3D printing can have on their performance and have heavily invested in Fused Deposition Modelling to get ahead of their competitors.
The use of FDM and 3D printing in motorsports allows teams to shave those vital seconds from their lap times by improving aerodynamics by creating lightweight pieces through 3D printing. Doing so will help reduce drag and increase speed which can make a big difference when it comes to race time.
However, FDM isn’t just used for the practical application of parts for vehicles. Motorsport teams are now using these industrial machines to design functional prototypes and test these parts to analyse their effectiveness before introducing them on a larger scale.
The application of fused deposition modelling in motorsports can enhance their performance whilst saving them time and money in manufacturing, testing, and development costs.
2. Aviation and Aerospace
Just like the motorsport industry, the aviation industry is also looking at methods of reducing its costs and improving its efficiency.
However, the aviation industry is more concerned about finding ways to reduce their fuel output by reducing the amount of weight on an aircraft.
Fused Deposition Modelling is used to create unique and customisable parts of aircraft in a fraction of the time it takes via traditional methods. Parts such as engine compartments, cabin accessories, and lights can all be made through the FDM process.
These unique parts are lighter which in turn will make parts of the aircraft lighter, reducing the amount of fuel used on a flight.
3. Architectural Models
Architectural models are crucial to visualise designs before fully implementing design ideas.
Fused Deposition Modelling has become a popular way for architects to provide mockups of their projects, which gives real-world visualisation, ideal to present to potential clients.
FDM has many uses within the architectural world, let’s take a look at some of the most popular applications:
- Ability to make functional prototypes from computer-aided design software.
- Rapid prototyping makes FDM a quicker and smoother process.
- Developing complex shapes which would be difficult to do so by hand such as trees and stairs.
FDM allows for a cheaper and more efficient design process, whereby changes can easily be made to the model without causing a delay or a huge expense in the project.
4. Film Props
Another unique and innovative application of fused deposition modelling is the creation of film props.
Before FDM 3D printing, making film props could take weeks or months depending on the complexity of the prop. However, now with the implementation of 3D printing and FDM in particular, film props can be made at a fraction of the cost and done within a quicker timeframe.
FDM machines allow filmmakers to design, make changes, and print their props to suit their exact needs. From intricate pieces that accompany a prop, to a full-sized helmet or mask, FDM provides the flexibility required to create unique pieces.
Actors who are required to use props might also find FDM a useful tool. The lightweight design of printed props means actors can easily use FDM printed parts which are especially useful if the actors have to wear the prop for an extended period of time.
FDM also has a number of medical applications. The implementation of robust and personalised prosthetics has improved a great deal over the last few decades.
Fused Deposition Modelling has become a part of the prosthetics improvement process, giving healthcare providers the ability to create unique and personalised prosthetics for those who require them.
Traditionally, creating a prosthetic was costly, with prices stretching way beyond an average yearly salary for one prosthetic.
However, with FDM 3D printing now commonplace, the cost of designing and printing a unique piece has dramatically reduced, and alongside the reduced production time, the ability to have a personalised prosthetic has now become more accessible than ever before.
Technology has increased in this area so much that it has been reported that some prosthetics can be printed at home using desktop FDM printers by anyone who has one.
The application of FDM parts in the prosthetics industry can greatly increase the quality of life for people with disabilities, but also for animals who require assistance to allow them to continue living their life as normally as possible.
What Does The Future of FDM Look Like?
Although we have briefly discussed 5 applications of FDM printers here, the applications are actually endless.
FDM is used within almost every aspect of life including biomedicine, occupational therapy, construction, and automotive industries.
The implementation of FDM isn't likely to slow down anytime soon, with researchers expecting it to continue to grow and advance over the next decade or so.
Fused Deposition Modelling and 3D printing in general have become more commonplace, and the applications of FDM have increased over the years.
Once used by hobbyists to create quirky pieces, FDM is now used by some of the largest industries in the world such as the aviation industry, motorsport industry, and in healthcare to improve the quality of life for patients.
FDM has many benefits including the low cost of production, the ability to create unique, individual pieces, and the reduction in the time it takes to create products.
Although there are some disadvantages such as costly breakdowns, FDM is likely to increase in popularity and the expectations are that fused deposition modelling will continue to be used for larger, more complex projects as the technology evolves.