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Interested in FDM 3D printing?

zmorph multitool 3d printer
Reading Time: 3 minutes

First of all, let me welcome you to In this site you will find information about key points related to FDM 3D printing based on real experiences, explained in everyday words. Approaching technology to non technological-based public is the perspective.

If you are interested in 3D printing, product design, gadgets, DIY solutions… Just let me know what your questions are, and I will try to give my best answers and/or advices.

“If there is a will, there is a way”.

As a sage said, we can achieve things that we could never expected before.

Photo by ZMorph Multitool 3D Printer on Unsplash

Well, most of you will already know what 3D printing is, but let’s make a short introduction for any newly initiated or curious over the place.

What is FDM 3D printing?

3D printing is an additive manufacturing technology that has spread over the world in last years. It allow us to produce tridimensional products from a digital file, in contrast with traditional manufacturing processes like CNC machining where products shows up by the substraction of material from an initial block.

Even it sounds incredible, it has already been in use for almost 40 years, when Charles Hull invented stereolitography in 1984.

Key patents related to this techonolgy have been expiring last years, so its first consecuencies are high demand, lower prices and wider scope for it. Some of the most important things to keep in mind are:

  • It Makes possible to have physical prototypes in an easy and cheap way.
  • Low tooling investment while product development goes.
  • Relative low time manufacturing.

Hot does it work?

There are many different technologies inside 3D printing. Some of them start from powden, others from liquid resins, other from plastic filament... Each one has its own working flow, specifications and pro/cons.

We will focus on FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling), which consist in depositing fused plastic filament in very thin layers.

All begins from a 3D design, either created from CAD (Computer Aided Design) software or generated from data obtained with a 3D scanner. Then that digital model is sliced in a software (for example Cura, from UltiMaker). Slicing is dividing the solid digital model into hundreds of layers, according to the parameters that our printing accuracy needs.

As a result, we get a .gcode file which contains all printing parameters, coordinates, machine moves, filament feeding, retractions, temperatures… In summary, we get the file that will guide the printer out to manufacture our product.

Finally, just set the printer properly up, load the .gcode to the machine and all our work is already done!

What key benefits does it has, and what are its limitations today?

  • Low cost: Compared to traditional prototyping or low production series, 3D printing offer really low prices for test and small manufacturing series.
  • High speed to market: A concept can be designed and out to the market the same day.
  • Mitigate risk: Correction of design weaknesses is also fast and cheap.
  • Get valuable feedback: Physical objects can bring direct feedback from non-professional users by testing it.
  • Experience objects: It does never feel the same in the screen than in your hands.
  • Limited materials: There is not a wide range of different materials yet, and most of them are plastic-based.
  • Low mechanical performance: In non-industrial scale FDM 3D printing, mechanical resistance is relatively low. It is more intended to be geometrical and visual tests rather than strength tests.
  • Not user-friendly: Even this points is being improved every single step, nowadays 3D printing is still not available to everybody because of the knowledge needed.
  • Plastic reliance: Will see how this changes over the time. Today home 3D printing is strongly tighted to plastic (mainly PLA and ABS).
  • Aren’t you a designer?: You can trust design banks or repositories, but you will find many trash over the internet.

To sum up…

3D printing has arrived definitively to stay. This manufacturing technology will empower people to create and distribute products in an horizontal way. It will change industry, supply chains, transport services, internet portals, buying experiences… A big revolution is coming into being.

If you are not a CAD designer, for the moment I strongly recommend you to start having a look to online design tools such as TinkerCAD, Sculpteo or SelfCAD.

Article written by:

A Product designer who specializes in CAD modeling, 3D printing and other industrial processes.

1 Comment

  1. Pingback: What material should you use? — Alejandro Sisternes

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