When working with 3D Printers every day it is easy to forget that some people don’t know what a 3D Printer is or how it works. In this blog post, we will be breaking down the main components of an FDM 3D Printer to help people get a better understanding of how 3D Printers work.
What is 3D Printing?
3D Printing has been around since the 1980s, which is quite a few years ago, but it was only in the late 2000s that it started to gain traction. Since 2010 the consumer/household 3D Printer market has really taken off.
There are various types of 3D Printing but the 3 most established are Stereolithography (SLA), Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), and Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM). Most household 3D Printers available in today’s market, such as Creality and Prusa, are FDM or SLA.
FDM is a process by which layers of material, often called filament, are fused together in a pattern to create an object. The material is heated past its glass transition temperature and then extruded next to, or on top of the previous extrusion. This builds an object layer by layer until completion.
FDM 3D Printer Breakdown:
In this section of the blog, we will look at the main components of FDM 3D Printers.
The extruder is responsible for pushing the filament to the hotend of a 3D Printer. There are 2 main types of extruders, bowden setup and direct drive, each has benefits and shortfalls. The extruder makes use of drive gears powered by a stepper motor. These gears grip and push the filament either through PTFE tubing or directly into the hotend.
A Bowden setup usually has the extruder mounted to the side of the printer and connected to the hotend with PTFE tubing. A direct drive extruder has the extruder, including the stepper motor, mounted directly on the hotend of the printer with very little or no PTFE tubing between them.
The hotend is where the 3D Printer material is heated to above the glass transition temperature and then pushed through the nozzle. For printers like the Ender 3, it moves across the X, Y, and Z-axis. With printers like the Ender 6, it moves across the X and Y axis with the printer bed moving on the Z-axis. The hotend is made up of a variety of parts which can vary from printer to printer. A typical hotend will have a heater block, heatbreak, thermistor, nozzle, and a variety of fans.
Another popular type of hotend is an all-metal hotend, these often do not make use of fans and rather have a cooling tower. All-metal hotends often increase print quality and allow you to print with a wider variety of filaments, this makes it a popular upgrade.
The print bed is the base upon which the material is placed. They are often made from aluminium and there are 2 common types of printer beds, heated and unheated. Most 3D Printers currently available come with a heated bed as standard. Many manufacturers install some sort of adhesion aid onto the printer bed to improve first-layer adhesion. There are a variety of adhesion aids such as BuildTak, PEI, UltraBase, glass, and more traditional methods such as tape, glue, and hairspray. The use of adhesion aids helps make 3D Printing more accessible for first-time users.
We decided to give nozzle their own section due to the important role they play in 3D Printing. The nozzle is the point at which the material leaves the hotend and is applied to the layer being printed at that point. Some materials contain abrasive particles and as they pass through the nozzle they wear it down. To prevent this, companies have released a variety of nozzle types that provide greater wear resistance. The popular types of nozzles are brass, stainless steel, and hardened steel. Some companies offer more unusual or higher-end nozzle types such as A2 hardened Tool Steel and Vanadium. Nozzles are a popular upgrade choice for and maker.
For an in-depth look at 3D Printer nozzles check out this blog post.
Filament is the material that is used in 3D Printing. It comes in spools of various colours, types, and sizes. The filament is fed into the extruder which pushes it into the hotend where it is heated up before passing through the nozzle. The more common types of filament are PLA, ABS, PETG, and TPU. Each type of filament offers a range of benefits and choosing what filament to use depends on the intended use of the part being printed. Before printing with a new type of filament we recommend you do a bit of research to ensure your 3D Printer will be compatible with it.
We hope you found the information in this article helpful and have a better understanding of what FDM 3D Printing is all about. Keep an eye out for a SLA/DLP post if you want a breakdown of resin 3D Printers.
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Graphic Designer | Photographer | Gamer and Twitch streamer.
I have a passion for design and a love of art. I am always eager to learn new things, be it 3D modeling/3D printing, copywriting or even cooking. Pretty chill guy who is always down for a braai with family and friends.