If you’re considering getting a 3D printer for home use, it will most likely be one that uses fused deposition modelling (FDM). FDM is the oldest and therefore most popular 3D printing technology and the majority of 3D printers utilise it. In FDM, the object is created layer-by-layer by depositing melted material. The materials you can use are thermoplastic polymers which are available in filament form. So, if you want to create amazing things with 3D printing, it will be helpful to know the capabilities and limitations of FDM 3D printers.
When it comes to purchasing a home use 3D printer FDM models allow you to customise several parameters during the process. The majority of FDM printers allow the user to adjust the temperatures of the nozzle and build platform, the speed of the build, the speed of the cooling fan, and the layer height. This allows you to have greater control over the final look of the object. The layer height can vary between 50 and 400 microns, depending on your preference. A smaller height results in smoother parts and more accurate curves. On the other hand, larger heights speed up the production and lower its cost. As for the build size, most home use 3D printers allow you to build objects with a maximum size of 200 x 200 x 200 mm. So, if you want to produce something larger, you will need to break it into smaller parts which will be printed separately and later assembled as a whole.
As I’ve mentioned, FDM 3D melt thermoplastic polymers in layers until they fill up the entire model. The types of plastic used is either ABS or PLA. ABS is derived from oil-based resources which means its sturdier. On the other hand, PLA comes from plant-based resources and as a result, the objects made from it are biodegradable. However, PLA printed objects aren’t as sturdy as objects made from ABS. So, when it comes to choosing what filament to use, it’s important to take into account how its properties will affect the durability and purpose of the object.
When it comes to the dimensional accuracy and resolution of the printer FDM offers the lowest quality. As a result, it doesn’t allow you to build objects with very intricate details. What’s more, objects produced with FDM printing can have visible layer lines which can ruin their appearance. However, these limitations can be overcome with some additional post-processing steps such as engraving, sanding and polishing, painting, cold welding, vapour smoothing, metal plating or epoxy coating.