When it comes to additive manufacturing technologies, the options are many and varied. Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) and Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF) are common 3D printing technologies used for prototyping complex geometries. They are very similar to each other, and many even use them interchangeably.
But there are also some distinct differences between the two. If you had to choose between the two, it can be confusing without understanding what sets them apart. In this FDM vs. FFF guide, we explain each technology in detail, along with its benefits and applications. It will help you select the right choice for your requirements!
What Does FDM Stand for in 3d Printing?
Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) is a trademarked technology of Stratasys, a leading 3D printing company in the world. It was founded by the company owner Scott Crump. FDM printers create 3D objects using a layering mechanism on a build platform.
It has an extruder with a nozzle that deposits melted thermoplastic filament in layers to achieve the required design. The object gets created by fusing the layers of filament together. The deposition of melted filament is done in a heated chamber to create a complementary environment for the temperature-controlled extruder.
Characteristics of FDM
- The heated chamber (the temperature maintained at 90°C or higher)
- It is possible to adjust the temperature of the extruder and the chamber according to the material that’s being melted and poured.
- The build volumes vary depending on whether it’s a desktop or an industry-grade FDM printer. Industrial printers support a higher build volume.
- Solid layer adhesion is important for a quality output
- Compatible with an array of materials
- Issue of warping due to layers cooling at different rates
- Layer height ranging from 0.02mm to 0.4mm
Benefits of FDM
FDM printing is considered an innovative solution compared to conventional manufacturing processes. It offers numerous benefits.
- They are cost-effective and readily available in the market
- The precision and quality of the product are excellent due to its hot-over-hot process
- Easy to use and convenient handling
- Can complete production quickly due to faster lead time
- Durable prototypes with good mechanical and physical properties
- Can create internal infills for support
Applications of FDM
As FDM printers are readily available, they are very popular and are used for a variety of purposes in different fields.
- Medical device parts
- Automotive components
- Architectural models
- Electronic accessories
- Household items
What Does FFF Stand for in 3d Printing?
Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF) was introduced to the market in 2009 by the RepRap Team, following the expiration of the patent held by Stratasys on the FDM technology. It is a generic term used to refer to open-source printers utilizing the FDM.
So, FFF is also an extrusion-based additive manufacturing technology that builds prototype models through the layer-by-layer deposition of the material. FFF 3D printers have an extruder in the printer head that melts the plastic and feeds it through a nozzle. The printing capabilities and material compatibility depends on the type of FFF printer you use.
Characteristics of FFF
- FFF printers are available in different sizes to cater to different build volumes
- The build speed and extrusion speed are adjustable
- A heated build platform to support adhesion and for curing the layers together
- Remote operation via Cloud connectivity or local network
- Issue of warping and shrinkage due to a lack of ambient temperature control
- Layer height ranging from 0.02mm to 0.4mm
- Deposition of filament in FFF printers can create small pits between layers, and they can cause cracks in the object
- Quality and resolution depend on the printer model
Benefits of FFF
- Wide range of choices
- Low investment cost
- Easy to use. You don’t need highly specific skills and knowledge to handle them.
- Ability to switch between materials easily
- Fast lead time
- Can create infills for a supportive structure
Applications of FFF
- Concept models for research purposes
- Soluble supports
- Architectural models
- Medical implants
- Electronics and mobile accessories
How Does FDM Differ from FFF?
While both FDM and FFF are similar temperature-controlled and extrusion-based technologies, the FDM printing process utilizes an integrated hot chamber to even out the temperature difference between the nozzle and ambiance. The temperature of the chamber can be adjusted similarly to the nozzle and the printing bed.
- It eases the pressure build-up that happens when pouring the filament into the printing platform or bed.
- The consistency of heat binds the layers more effectively and makes the models less porous
- FDM printing is less prone to warping and durability issues compared to FFF.
- The output is also more accurate with a better resolution.
Overall, maintaining a heated printing environment and utilizing high-grade materials for FDM compared to FFF results in better-quality models.
FDM and FFF are compatible with a wide range of materials such as ABS, PLA, PET, and Nylon. However, FDM has the capability to print tough materials, including polycarbonate, Ultem, and PEEK. The temperature consistency enabled by the heating chamber helps you retain the mechanical properties of these materials.
The materials used for FDM are also better in quality and are less prone to issues like warping. These filaments are manufactured following strict quality-control guidelines and offer greater accuracy and consistency when printing. You can use tight tolerance requirements of prototypes using FDM materials.
Now that we are aware of the significant quality differences between prototypes produced using FDM and FFF 3D printing, it’s easier to determine the type of applications of each. If your prototyping requirements demand a greater level of precision and tighter tolerance rates, we recommend you select FDM printers for the purpose.
That being said, the resolution of FDM printers is still lower, considering other additive manufacturing technologies. You can use FDM for architectural models and for engineering prototypes in the field of medicine, dentistry, aerospace, and automotive. FDM printers are frequently used for industrial purposes.
If what you need is a visual sample of how your end-use products will look and feel, FFF printers are ideal for this purpose. Fused Filament Fabrication is also good for DIY enthusiasts, hobbyists, and school children in need of simple prototypes of their 3D designs.
FFF is also ideal for printing simpler products with less intricacy. They cater to personal use rather than commercial purposes.
The build volume of FDM printers is generally higher than FFF printers, but it depends on the model used. FDM has industrial printers that are able to create bigger prototypes and support a build volume in the range of 305 x 305 x 254 mm to 914 x 914 x 609 mm.
As they are designed to build operational models, the printers are also able to withstand a higher mechanical load.
FFF printers are in the range of 150 x 150 x 150 mm to 600 x 600 x 600 mm, when it comes to building volume. They are handy for home use or educational purposes at schools due to their size. Despite being small, the accuracy of FFF models is lacking.
Again, the hot chamber containing the FDM printer and the quality of filament used contribute to achieving a seamless finish with fewer traces of layering.
Therefore, the surface finish of prototypes printed using the FDM technology is superior to FFF counterparts. The surface finish of FFF prototypes is also considered good, especially if the design doesn’t involve intricate geometries.
Cost is another factor to consider when it comes to FDM vs. FFF 3D printing. While the cost primarily depends on the 3D printer model you are opting for, FDM printers are relatively more expensive than FFF printers.
This is because FDM is primarily geared towards professional and industrial purposes that demand bigger build volumes, higher load resistance, and better quality. They can cost anywhere from $2000-$200,000.
FFF 3D printing is reputed for being cheaper and more accessible for everyone. There are both desktop and industrial models, and the options are wide and varied with different features. The entry-level desktop models are available for as low as $200. High-end industrial FFF printers can cost around $50,000 or more.
FDM Vs. FFF Common Traits and Characteristics
Except for the heated print chamber, the defining difference between FDM and FFF is the quality. Otherwise, they share many similarities. Primarily, they are both the same printing technology marketed under different names because Staratasys holds the copyright for FDM.
Both FDM and FFF printers have an extruder, nozzle, print bed/platform, and temperature and speed controls. They melt and extrude thermoplastic filaments layer by layer to construct 3D models.
Even though FDM supersedes FFF 3D printing in terms of precision and accuracy, both technologies aren’t very capable of achieving complex geometries while retaining a higher resolution. You might want to consider other additive manufacturing technologies for this purpose.
Also, both FDM and FFF require additional materials to provide support for the main object. These materials can easily be re-melted and reused for another purpose.
FDM Vs. FFF: an Overview of Each Process
FDM: Principle of Process
- The primary process is creating a 3D model using design software in the STL format. Utilizing a slicing software, the model is configured to be printed in layers in 2D form.
- After the selection of the nozzle size, filament type, speed, and temperature of the nozzle, bed, and heated chamber, the model is ready to be printed.
- The extruder will melt the thermoplastic variety, and the nozzle will pour it onto the build platform according to the design. For this purpose, both the nozzle and the platform may move in the required direction.
- As each layer of melted plastic gets deposited on the platform, the previous layers get reheated, and it helps in bonding the layers. The temperature of the heated chamber enhances the adhesion further.
- Then, the layers are allowed to cool and cure before the model is retrieved from the printer.
FFF: Principle of Process
The Fused Filament Deposition process is very similar to the above. You need reliable software to design the prototype and get it in STL format. Slicing software is used to determine the requirements of printing similar to FDM.
The nozzle will pour the melted plastic onto the platform. In FFF, the build platform is heated according to the filament. It is meant to compensate for the lack of a heated chamber and aid in fusing the layers together.
While the central method of operation is the same when it comes to FDM vs. FFF, there can be additional features based on the model of the printer. Some printers also have dual-nozzle or multi-nozzle technology to increase speed and efficiency.
Kemal: Manufacturing Metal Parts and Prototypes for You
Kemal is a leading rapid prototyping and on-demand manufacturing solutions provider in China, catering to a global customer base. We are equipped with the latest 3D printing technologies, including the best FDM and FFF 3D printers to cater to your requirements.
Whether you need a new concept model developed or need an existing design enhanced with better features, we can help you out. We are capable of meeting tight tolerance requirements and use only industry-certified raw materials in our manufacturing process.
At present, we work with pioneering brands from different industries worldwide. With decades of expertise and the use of advanced technology, we can fulfill all your manufacturing requirements and be your partner for innovation and growth.
Before You Go
In addition to FDM and FFF, we also offer a wide range of additive manufacturing solutions such as Stereolithography (SLA), Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), Digital Light Process (DLP), Multi Jet Fusion (MJF), etc.
Take a look at our services and the array of materials to find the right solution for your needs. You can also talk to one of our experts and discuss your requirements.
Have a question or a customized request? Contact our support team now! We will get in touch with you very soon!