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3D Printing Design Guide: Fused Deposit Modelling


Fused deposition modelling, or FDM, is a popular and cost-effective 3D printing technology that produces durable parts from standard thermoplastics. FDM accounts for much of the 3D printing we do at 3 Space, both for customers and for our own in-house projects. We’re experts when it comes to this technology.

This guide will be focused on the considerations that must be made when designing 3D printable models for FDM machines. Here, the important factors and design parameters to consider will be explained in some detail to provide a roadmap for developing quality 3D designs that result in high-end 3D printed parts.

The Printing Process

With FDM, your 3D model is first sliced into cross-sectional layers using specialized software. The 3D printer then reproduces these layers via the extrusion of engineering thermoplastics, such as ABS or polycarbonate. Because of its durable materials, typical industrial applications for FDM include rapid prototyping as well as the production of jigs and fixtures to aid in production.

FDM prints a support material to keep overhangs and freestanding features from collapsing during part production. This material is soluble and can be removed with a chemical bath that is harmless to the actual production material. For high temp materials, like Ultem and PSF, the support material is not soluble and must be removed manually.

Designing for FDM

When designing for FDM, one must take into consideration the basic equipment—3D printer—that will employ this additive manufacturing process to translate specified designs. The criteria of the basic equipment to note include:

Build Volume

The build size of a 3D printer highlights the maximum size of the objects a 3d printer can print. For FDM, the maximum build volume is 16x14x16”.  If your part is larger than the build volume, the design can be modified to be