Design for FFF 3D printing: Maximize your success

Fused filament fabrication (FFF) has rightfully earned its place as one of the most widespread 3D printing technologies — eliminating common design limitations and introducing design flexibility and ease of use. To help ensure 3D printing output and success, however, it’s important to understand and lean on FFF design best practices.

Following the best practices for FFF 3D printing can help ensure a print’s quality and success rate

When should you use FFF 3D printing?

First, let’s break down some of FFF 3D printing’s pros and cons – as well as compare it to other forms of manufacturing.

FFF 3D printing vs. CNC machines

Computer numerical control (CNC) machines automatically create tools or parts via coded and programmed instructions. FFF 3D printing outshines CNC in three key areas: fast turnaround time for low quantities, shorter manufacturing workflows, and easier production of complex parts. For batch production, FFF can take longer, as CNC machines are expected to produce parts at a faster rate once the product is finalized and the G-code is produced. However, this often leads organizations to lean on a supporting fleet of 3D printers to back up the long CNC queue and simultaneously create parts. Additionally, CNC machines may be preferable for certain advanced application requirements that can’t be met with material filaments, such as PLA or ABS.

FFF 3D printing vs. injection molding

When evaluating injection molding, FFF 3D printing stands apart due its low barrier of entry — in terms of both cost and knowledge. Injection molding requires a level of expertise typically only with hands-on experience, due to the hundreds of process parameters and design constraints. Unlike injection molding, FFF 3D printing does not require the creation and maintenance of a mold, and allows for fast and easy design modifications. The biggest benefit of injection molding is the fast production of large quantities of parts and providing an end product with a smoother surface finish.

Key considerations for FFF design

When designing for 3D printing, there are best practices to help you get the most value from your 3D printer the parts it creates, improve print success rates, reduce production costs, and boost the speed of your product development cycle.

Consider build volume

Your 3D prints can only be as large as the build volume. The Ultimaker S5 is 330 x 240 x 300 mm (13 x 9.4 x 11.8 inches), which is large enough for approximately 80% of our customers’ applications while maintaining a high level of accuracy. If a part is too big, we recommend you use modularity (printing then combining separate parts). If a part is too big, we recommend you use modularity (printing then combining separate parts). By using a modularized design, you can simultaneously print two parts on different machines. You can create locating features to combine them later.

Decide orientation early

Because FFF prints layer by layer, determining the print orientation early in the process helps drive design choices, text alignment, and snap features. Mechanical properties are anisotropic, which means they differ depending on their direction. As seen here, if the tensile test sample is printed flat, it will be stronger in the tensile direction, because the layers would be aligned in that direction.

A print’s orientation directly affects the location of overhangs – and whether the model will

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