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Fused Deposition Modeling & Fused Filament Fabrication

3D-Printing has revolutionized the design and manufacturing industry in the last few decades. No need to rely only on CAD or crudely made prototypes from third party manufacturers to present ideas. Fused Deposition Modeling and Fused Filament Fabrication techniques allow you to create perfect three-dimensional models at low cost, and with relative ease.

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What is Fused Filament Fabrication?

Fused Filament Fabrication, FFF (sometimes Filament Freeform Fabrication) is a 3D printing technique whereby the printer extrudes a continuous strand of thermoplastic. This plastic filament is unwound from a reel, then fed through a heated head to render it malleable and adhesive. Usually, FFF printers move in two dimensions across the XY-axis, building up the printed object layer upon layer (in the Z-axis).

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What is Fused Deposition Modeling?

In essence it’s the same technology, but the term “fused deposition modeling” was trademarked in 1989 by Stratasys, which means that only 3D-printers licensed by Stratasys can use this designation. Stratasys’ patents for FDM technology were due to run out in 2009, so an alternative was developed, under the new name of Fused Filament Fabrication by competitors to Stratasys to open up the market. The differentiator between FDM and FFF is the removal of a sealed and heated printing chamber, allowing for compact, desktop versions of the technology to be created. Fused Filament Fabrication is more convenient for designers and smaller manufacturers than FDM’s more industrial scale machines.

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Benefits of Fused Deposition Modeling or FFF Software

Slicing software is at the heart of what makes FDM or FFF work. This software breaks down a 3D object into slices based on your specified layer height (which in turn acts as a resolution control for the print) and controls the print head with pinpoint precision. Some of the benefits of adopting this system are:

  • Low-Cost Design: Prototypes can be made in-house for less money.
  • High-Speed Prototyping: No waiting for manufacturers to schedule jobs and deliver.
  • A Multiplicity of Materials: FFF machines offer a wide variety of materials to print with including ABS, PLA, PETG and Nylon, as well as blends with metal in them.
  • A Host of Colors: FFF/FDM printers work with a rainbow of different colors. They can print with dual extrusion heads, mix colors sequentially or, employing the new technique of stereolithography, even change colors mid-process.

How Can You Use FDM/FFF?

There are a range of different applications you might use Fused Deposition Modeling or Fused Filament Fabrication in. These include:

  • Manufacturing

    FFF/FDM may be used to generate bespoke pieces and batch-run items for each user. For example, designing lampshades and fittings.

  • Design Education

    Seeing your project in physical space illustrates 3D modeling best. Children and design students alike benefit from seeing their work realized.

  • Prototyping

    Ideation and prototyping are faster in-house. In-house models can be created to test principles, tweak designs, and provide proof of concept.

  • Problem Solving

    Even before ideas are fully realized, concepts can be tried out by quickly fabricating a mock-up to test your design.

What Materials Can You Use with FFF?

All FFF or FDM printers use variants on thermoplastics, but each plastic has unique qualities. Here are some of the main materials available:

  • ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene)

    ABS is heat and impact resistant, durable, and strong but requires a ventilated space and a heated base for manufacturing.

  • PLA (polylactic acid)

    The easiest material to print with, PLA is strong and rigid but is less chemical and heat resistant than other options.

  • PETG (polyethylene terephthalate glycol)

    PETG is waterproof, chemical resistant, can be manufactured at lower temperatures and can be rendered transparent. It’s the best solution for food packaging.

  • Nylon

    Heat and impact resistant, lightweight, strong, and long-lasting, nylon can however be a challenging material to work with.

  • TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane)

    TPU stretches more than other thermoplastics and is a good vibration dampener. It is also impact resistant.

  • PVA (polyvinyl alcohol)

    Used in 3D printing as a support material, it dissolves in water.

  • HIPS (high-impact polystyrene)

    A support material used alongside ABS printing, HIPS can be dissolved with limonene.

  • Metal fill

    Metal fill is a metal-and-plastic composition (usually PLA or ABS). You can use to produce metal-like 3D prints.

Fused Filament Fabrication Software Resources

Autodesk has created some resources so you can learn more about FFF or FDM 3D Printing and the software than powers it:

Fused Filament Fabrication Software FAQs

Here are short answers to six of the most common questions we’re asked about Fused Filament Fabrication and Fused Deposition Modeling:

Yes. FFF software has been developed for Windows, and Mac OS.  Why not download a free trial of Fusion 360 Software? It has a built in 3D printing slicer!

Here’s a helpful article we created explaining that very topic.

Apart from the patent and trademark issues, the main difference is that FFF has been developed for desktop use and does not require a sealed, heated printing chamber.

There is a pay monthly option at just $60, a 3-year deal for $1410 or custom pricing if you require more flexibility. Here’s a link to our pricing page.

Also known as Fused Granular Fabrication (FGF), FPF is a new technology which uses a stream of individual particles, rather than a continual filament, to 3D print objects. The technology is currently in the developmental phase.

A continuous filament of thermoplastic is passed through a heated head onto a surface, becoming adhesive and malleable. An object is built up, layer by layer, as the plastic cools and hardens.

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