A 3-D printer creates objects from plastic or other materials in a succession of layers from the bottom, up. This is the opposite of traditional subtractive manufacturing processes, which produce objects by cutting material away from a block to create the shape desired.

Stratasys 3-D printers use fused deposition modeling, or FDM, to create a 3-D part. In the FDM process, each layer of molten plastic is deposited on top of the previous one and flattened slightly by a computer-controlled extrusion head. The layers instantly fuse to one another.

Here is how to make a 3-D part using FDM.

  1. Draw a product or concept using a computer-aided design software program.
  2. Import the CAD file to a preprocessing or “build-preparation” program such as Catalyst EX or Insight, used by Stratasys. The program sections and slices the part design into thin layers ranging from 0.005 in. to 0.013 in. in height. Using the sectioning data, the software then generates “tool paths” or building instructions that will drive the extrusion head.
  3. Send the build file to the 3-D printer.
  4. Prep the machine by inserting material cartridges. Add a base, and close the chamber door.
  5. Press “print” to start the building process.  Two materials — one to make the part and one to support it — enter the extrusion head. Heat is applied to soften the plastics, which are extruded in a ribbon roughly the size of a human hair. Alternating between part material and support material, the system deposits layers as thin as 0.005 in.
  6. When the 3-D printer display reads “complete,” open the chamber door and remove the build tray. Twist the tray to release the part.
  7. Remove the support material that held the part in place by either washing or stripping it.
  8. The FDM part is now ready for use.

*Source: Extracted from “3-D PRINTING WITH FDM: How it Works,” by Joe Hiemenz, Stratasys Inc. Contact Stratasys Incorporated, 7665 Commerce Way, Eden Prairie, MN 55344, 888-480-3548 (US Toll Free), 952-937-3000, stratasys.com, info@stratasys.com.

View a gallery to see 3-D printing at work.