FDM is the second most widely used rapid prototyping technology, after Stereolithography. A plastic filament is unwound from a coil and supplies material to an extrusion nozzle. The nozzle is heated to melt the plastic and has a mechanism which allows the flow of the melted plastic to be turned on and off. The nozzle is mounted to a mechanical stage which can be moved in both horizontal and vertical directions.

As the nozzle is moved over the table in the required geometry, it deposits a thin bead of extruded plastic to form each layer. The plastic hardens immediately after being squirted from the nozzle and bonds to the layer below. The entire system is contained within a chamber which is held at a temperature just below the melting point of the plastic.

Several materials are available for the process including ABS and investment casting wax. ABS offers good strength, and more recently polycarbonate and polyphenylsulfone materials have been introduced which extend the capabilities of the method further in terms of strength and temperature range. Support structures are fabricated for overhanging geometries and are later removed by breaking them away from the object. A water-soluble support material which can simply be washed away is also available.


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