Home printers typically work with plastic filament. The technology behind this is referred to as Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF). At i.materialise, we have more professional, industrial-grade machines that use a technology called Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM).
In an FDM printer, a long plastic filament is fed from a spool to a nozzle where the material is liquefied and ‘drawn’ on the platform, where it immediately hardens again. The nozzle moves to place the material in the correct location to build your model layer by layer. When a layer is drawn, the platform lowers by one layer thickness so the printer can start with the next layer.
Unlike most home printers, our FDM machine actually uses a second filament that is used for building support material. Since the material used to build the model cannot be deposited in the air (e.g. for overhanging parts), the support material prevents it from falling down. After the printing process, the model is put into a bath with special soap. The support material dissolves automatically in this bath. Thanks to this, your designs can be really complex and contain interlocking, interlinking, and movable parts.
The printing material we use on these printers is ABS. This material will give you a print that is strong and accurate. ABS is very useful for functional applications because it matches 80% of the properties of real injected production material. However, the surface quality of the models produced with this material is rougher compared with other materials.