In this article I am going to point your attention at the cheapest and most common of the 3D printing technologies - Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) - and we will take a look at how exactly it works. This technology is known to accurately produce feature details and has an excellent strength to weight ratio. It is ideal for concept models, functional prototypes and low volume end-use parts. The FDM process starts with the importing of an STL file into the 3D printing machine. Filament is the material which marks the start of the printing, when using the FDM printing technology, which is a string of solid metal. A reel attached to the 3D printer is guiding this line of filament to a heated nozzle inside the 3D printer, which is melting the material and applying it along with a supporting material. So now that we have the material melted, the software on the computer kicks in, by extruding the already melted material on a specific path. Following this path, which was drawn with the help of the STL file, made on the computer software, the material which is being extruded is being build layer by layer. As every layer is placed, it instantly cools down and solidifies, which provides a solid base for the next layer to be placed, leading to the steady progress of forming the object, that we want to 3D print. While the nozzle keeps on moving horizontally, the platform steadily lowers as every layer is placed. When the object is finally complete, it is cleaned of the supporting material. The time that it takes for an object to be created, depends on how complex its form is. For example small objects and thin,tall ones will be created faster. As the cheapest 3D printing technology on the market, FDM also offers a wide variety of plastic-based materials in many colors, including ABS, PLA, nylon and even more exotic material blends including wood, carbon and bronze, which is another of its srengths.
The wide variety, of colored plastic based materials, is not the only strength, that makes FDM great, but also the fact that it allows low cost quick prototyping and the number of software that can be used with, also contributes for being the most widespread type of desktop 3D printing machines. Non-professional machines can be found on the market for around 500 dollars or even less. Thanks to recent technology advances in FDM 3D printing machines, they are now able to manufacture functional end products with embedded electrical and mechanical parts. And it could go even further, if it was not for some design and material limitation, which makes 3D FDM printing not desirable in more complex designs. Also if you don't feel like purchasing a FDM 3D printing machine, but you really want to have one, you could always try to make one yourself. There are websites out there where kits and parts for "replicating rapid-prototyper" are sold.