FFF vs FDM: Is there any difference?

Whenever you engage in 3D printing, you most likely have come across the terms FFF vs FDM. Many people tend to utilize the terms interchangeably, which may leave you wondering why the technology has two names. However, this notion is distant from the truth.

Do FFF and FDM serve the same technology? Yes. Does it mean the two concepts are the same? No.

Although the two processes are a lot more similar than different, they still hold some distinctions. We compile various information regarding FFF and FDM to help you understand how they differ despite being identical.

We look at:

  • The definition of FFF vs FDM
  • How the technology functions
  • The difference between FFF and FDM
  • Examples of printing applications
  • FFF and FDM pros and cons

What are FFF and FDM?

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FFF stands for Fused Filament Fabrication, while FDM is short for Fused Deposition Modeling. The two terms refer to the same 3D printing process, but their primary difference is trademark issues. Let us begin by explaining FFF vs FDM history to understand better how they relate to each other.

FDM is a technology designed by Stratasys Ltd., a 3D printer-manufacturing company that patented the name in 1991. It functions with production-grade thermoplastics and specialized 3D printers to produce durable, sturdy, and dimensionally stable components. The high-quality process provides the best precision and repeatability of any technology in the 3D printing world.

On the other hand, FFF is a product of the issues that arose from the trademarked FDM term. Since Stratasys Ltd. patented the “Fused Deposition Modeling” phrase, it means only the company’s products can utilize that term in product names and marketing. As a result, other enterprises interested in creating similar technology ran into problems since they could not refer to their projects with the FDM tag.

This problem led to the RepRap movement, where the enterprises came up with a new term, “Fused Filament Fabrication,” to address this problem. The new name enabled businesses and individuals to discuss and create 3D printing technologies. They could use the commonplace term without worries about Stratasys Ltd. suing them for utilizing the trademarked FDM.

Related: Learn about FDM vs SLA resin printing

Nonetheless, despite the seemingly easy solution to the FFF vs FDM name problem, the different names for the same printing process present some problems:

Mistaken Notion

A person unfamiliar with the FFF vs FDM name dispute can easily assume that the two concepts are entirely different. This misunderstanding can quickly lead to the loss of critical information. For instance, let us say someone newly owns a fused filament fabrication machine and needs additional information on how it operates.

It is pretty common to see the person pass over helpful articles or guides since these pieces only refer to FDM. The vice versa scenario is also the same, with FDM owners skipping FFF information materials as they deem them unnecessary.

Poor Impression

In contrast to the above point, someone may think that since FFF and FDM share the same basic process architecture, the results will also always be the same. This misunderstanding can lead to a disappointing experience and leave a poor first impression when working on 3D printing for the first time.

For instance, a person learns about FDM technology application, with its industrial-grade infrastructure producing high-grade details and prototypes. Nevertheless, since this operator thinks that FFF and FDM are entirely the same, he or she uses an FFF machine expecting the premium results marketed by FDM printers.

Since an FFF printer does not contain a print chamber, it means you expose your materials to changing temperatures during the printing process, resulting in unwanted residual stresses. This reality clashes with the person’s expectation, which can ruin his or her entire perception of the 3D printing world.

Miscommunication

Generally, most people are unaware of the trademark history between FFF vs FDM terminologies. The lack of awareness can quickly cause issues when communicating 3D printing ideas to the public. An average person can find it confusing when reading about the two supposedly different means of additive manufacturing.

For example, new 3D printer manufacturers not aware of the FDM trademark might get into legal trouble when they market their device as incorporating fused deposition modeling techniques.

Even though FFF is generally the preferred terminology in the 3D printing world, its utility is not ubiquitous. The resulting unclear communication across the industry can compromise innovation and marketing and confuse products to consumers.

FFF vs FDM Technology

When it comes to FFF vs FDM technology, there is no difference in operation since the two concepts have the same basic process architecture, facilitating the same printing process. As such, you can expect a similar result, whichever technology you choose to apply.

An FDM printer typically features a build platform, an extrusion-nozzle assembly, and a material in the form of a filament. The process begins when the filament material goes into the extruder, where the machine heats it to around 608°F (320°C). The extruder melts the filament material during this stage before selectively depositing it onto the build plate via a nozzle attachment at its end.

It is vital to isolate this whole procedure from the ambient environment to achieve quality and reliable outcomes. Besides, you need to maintain the print chamber at approximately 194°F (90°C), meaning your filament flows from a hot extruder through a heated environment. It then flows onto the hot building plate and is integrated into the print chamber.

This process facilitates a hot-to-hot transition that enhances control of the component’s mechanical properties you are printing. The increased print chamber temperature improves layer-to-layer adhesion for enhanced structural strength. In addition, it prevents curling and warping on the model you work on, ensuring high-quality outcomes.

It is essential to note that an FFF 3D printer does not have a print chamber, meaning the material experiences temperature fluctuations as it traverses hot-cold-hot conditions. The material moves from a hot extruder to a cold ambient environment and then settles on a heated building plate. You can find some budget-friendly FFF printer models not designed with a build plate that you can heat.

The adjustable FDM or FFF device enables you to modify the build mode and temperature settings according to the material you load for optimal results. Aside from this basic operating system, you can find slight variations depending on the printer model you purchase:

Delta 3D Printers

These devices utilize the Cartesian coordinates and incorporate an ergonomic design to facilitate speed. The printing bed remains stationary while the extruder freely travels across all coordinates.

Cartesian 3D Printers

These models are the most widely available in the market. As the name suggests, they also use the Cartesian coordinate system, typically integrating a printing bed that only moves on the Z-axis (vertical motion). Additionally, their extruder travels in four directions on the Y and X axes.

Polar 3D Printers

These printers utilize a Polar coordinate system, meaning every coordinate point on the grid relates to a variable pole instead of a set origin.

Furthermore, the FFF and FDM printers offer various extrusion systems to apply the printing material according to your needs. They include:

  • Pellet Extruders– Utilize plastic granules rather than filaments.
  • Filament Extruders– Utilize reels of thermoplastic filaments. It is the most versatile and common variation.
  • Paste Extruders– Utilize any paste. Its application is common in the food and ceramics industry.

Examples of Printing Applications

FFF and FDM compatibility with various materials ensure you can comfortably get creative and use 3D printing for different professional and hobby uses. You can apply technologies in several industries to achieve your requirements depending on the filament type you utilize. Below are a few examples of FFF and FDM applications based on various filaments:

PLA

PLA is a polymer created from organic materials such as cornstarch. It achieves a more liquid state and becomes more rigid than ABS during printing. Consequently, the models appear more detailed and shinier than ABS products do.

PLA produces models not prone to warping, making it a common choice when printing surgical implants and medical suturing kits. However, the liquid form can clog your printer’s nozzle.

ABS

ABS is more flexible and more heat resistant than PLA. Nonetheless, you can find it challenging to print large and thin structures since the material can warp in odd ways. Despite this, ABS’s popularity in prototyping and production makes it a popular option for first drafts of conceptual studies and hobby applications.

Its low price and lightweight design make it ideal when printing kitchen appliances, toys, and vehicle parts. The downside to using ABS is that it produces unpleasant fumes, has a high melting point, and is non-biodegradable.

Nylon

Nylon offers a sturdy yet flexible material that you can easily handle. It is ideal for printing machine components, consumer tools, and mechanical parts. You can also re-melt it and reuse it in other applications, enhancing convenience when needing pocket-friendly utility.

The con of utilizing Nylon is that it has a high melting point and emits toxic fumes when heated.

PET

The FDA-approved PET ensures you always work with safe materials without compromising your health. It does not shrink or warp, facilitating the accuracy and form durability of your models. In addition, you do not have to panic about moisture damage because it resists water degradation.

You can utilize your FFF or FDM machine to create food storage components and cooking implements. PET’s disadvantage is that it is not an easy material for beginners to handle.

Pros and Cons of FFF vs FDM

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FFF and FDM offer the same printing process, and thus you can expect similar advantages and disadvantages when using the technologies. Here are some pros and cons commonly experienced when applying the two concepts. This information can help you better manage your expectations and improve the handling of your preferred printer.

FFF Technology

Fused Filament Fabrication offers multiple advantages to make your utility convenient and comfortable, even when you are a first-time operator. These are:

Pros

  • Provides the least expensive materials
  • Presents the least costly printer technology
  • Easy to change materials
  • Supports a wide selection of materials
  • Delivers fast printing
  • Enables printing utilizing multiple different materials
  • Relatively easy to build your printer
  • Materials and printers provided by several manufacturers

Despite the numerous benefits FFF offers, you can experience the downside of this quality technology, causing inconveniences, depending on your printing requirements:

Cons

  • The limited strength of finished components
  • Nozzle size restricts the detail of finished models

FDM Technology

FDM provides various advantages to make it an attractive option for buyers interested in professional or part-time 3D printing. The three primary benefits offered by this machine are material flexibility, scalability, and a cost-to-size ratio.

You can conveniently use any FDM model to work on a wide selection of exotic filaments and thermoplastic materials. The material flexibility presented by this machine means you can deal with various products while needing relatively few modifications and upgrades. Other contemporary devices typically demand the use of powder or resin, limiting your ability to handle different materials.

Scalability is one of the essential advantages of using an FDM machine. Each gantry’s movement is the only aspect constraining the size of the printer’s build area. This design easily enables you to scale the device to any extent, since making the gantry rails longer enlarges the building area. Other printer constructions do not facilitate such convenient scalability without causing issues.

The easily scalable structure provides the cost-to-ratio advantage when applying FDM 3D printing. This machine’s simple design and low component costs result in the continual production of less expensive and more extensive models. Other printer types in the market are much more expensive per unit area than FDM because these models have vital parts that are still costly.

Another reason for the high price is that these devices are challenging to scale up, unlike the FDM printer. Besides these, you can find some other benefits when using FDM, including:

Pros

  • Easy to use
  • Clean technology and office-friendly
  • Practically enables complex cavities and geometries
  • Environmentally and mechanically stable production-grade thermoplastics

Aside from the advantages mentioned above, FDM technology also features some disadvantages that can cause significant restrictions and disappointments:

Cons

  • Challenging to achieve high detail results
  • Requires a lot of post-processing to create a professional-quality look
  • Forms a weak point where the layers join

Our piece above presents the similarities and differences between FFF and FDM printers to help you better understand the FFF vs FDM debate. Learning their similarities enables you to know how each device works, aiding you in developing flexibility to handle the 3D printing device available to you. The disparities ensure you know what to expect from each technology type, allowing you to manage your expectations.

Therefore, this detailed information can guide you in identifying the technology you prefer despite FFF and FDM’s integrated similarities.

Finding the perfect 3D printing technology enables you to enjoy the process, create your ideal products, and satisfactorily meet your creativity demands.