3D Printing with FDM: How it Works

A 3D printer is a machine that creates objects from plastic or other materials using an additive manufacturing process. Additive manufacturing produces objects in a succession of layers from the bottom, up. This is the opposite of traditional subtractive manufacturing processes, which produce objects by cutting material away from a block to create the shape desired. The term 3D printer was a trademark of Stratasys Inc, which, in 1999, allowed it to enter the public domain and become a generic industry term.

A 3D printer simplifies and accelerates the process of making prototypes and finished goods. The 3D printing process is so easy and yet so powerful that both home-based businesses and Fortune 500 companies count on it. Installations range from a single machine in a hobbyist’s basement to manufacturing centers with dozens of systems.

How does a 3D printer work? Beginning with computer-aided design (CAD) data, which defines a tool path, the 3D printer extrudes and deposits molten thermoplastic in layers to build the part from the bottom up. This makes very complex parts easy to produce.

Stratasys manufactures several lines of machines, including 3D printers and their big brothers, 3D production systems (or production 3D printers). This includes the Dimension® , uPrint®, Fortus®, Objet® and Mojo® product lines. At the core of each system is fused deposition modeling, or FDM Technology™. Stratasys FDM machines create functional parts by extruding and depositing thermoplastic materials in layers.

This guide will walk you step by step through the FDM process.

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