EDUCATION

Plastic 3D Printing Comparison: Fused Filament Fabrication vs. Multi Jet Fusion

FDM 3D printing technology
Above: FDM 3D printing technology in operation/Image Source: 3D Hubs

Your board has made a decision. You’ve been given the go-signal to get a three-dimensional printer for the short-run production of proprietary plastic parts. However, they have left the decision to choose and buy the ideal 3D printer to you. At the moment, you might be inclined to get a Fused Filament Fabrication printer. However, have you heard about the Multi Jet Fusion technology? If yes, then you should definitely read about the top reasons to consider this3D printing technology to find out which one suits your purposes better.

3 Reasons to Consider a Fused Filament Fabrication Printer

The following are the main reasons you may want to go with a fused filament fabrication printer. 

1.    Wide Range and Ready Availability of Materials

Fused filament fabrication — also known as Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM), which is Stratasys’ trademarked term for its FFF printers — is the most popular 3D printing technology primarily because of its versatility.

Industrial FFF/FDM printers, specifically those with actively heated build chambers, heated vacuum print beds, and at least 932°F extruders, can print an even wider variety of materials and create robust, high-performance parts.

One example of such a high-temperature industrialfused filament fabrication 3D printer is the AON M2. Like standard FFF/FDM printers, AON M2 can print standard FFF/FDM materials like the following:

  • Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS)
  • Acrylonitrile styrene acrylate (ASA)
  • Polyamide (PA), i.e., nylon
  • Polyethylene terephthalate glycol (PETG)
  • Polycarbonate (PC)
  • Polypropylene (PP)

However, the AON M2’s specific high-temperature printing capabilities means it can also print high-performance plastics, which can have the following characteristics:

  • Incredible mechanical strength
  • Extreme temperature resistance
  • Broad chemical resistance
  • Strong abrasion resistance
  • Superb flame retardant properties
  • High crystallinity
  • Bio-compatibility

Some of the most notable high-performance plastics you can use with an AON M2 printer are ULTEM™ 9085 or polyetherimide (PEI), polyetheretherketone (PEEK), carbon fiber PEEK, polyetherketoneketone (PEKK), and carbon fiber PEKK.

In contrast, multi-jet fusion printers can accommodate a limited range of materials for now. Note, however, that this will change as more and more providers get their materials tested for use with MJF printers.

2.    Wide Range of Applications

The wide range of materials thatfused filament fabrication printers can print means FFF/FDM printing has a wide range of applications.

Aside from the run-of-the-mill applications, FDM/FFF printers that can process PEEK and PEKK plastics can print parts for the aerospace, automotive, defence, electronics, biomedical, oil and gas, and packaging industries.

3.    Relatively Low Startup and Maintenance Costs

FFF/FDM printers are available at a variety of price points. The high-temperature industrial printers capable of printing high-performance plastics naturally cost more than desktop FFF/FDM printers.

Even so, a complete FFF/FDM printer set-up (excluding materials) costs significantly less than a similar set-up (excluding materials) of an advanced-tech MJF printer. You can buy multiple FFF/FDM printers at the price of a single MJF printer.

Additionally, FFF/FDM machines cost less to troubleshoot and maintain. The cost of troubleshooting and maintaining an MJF printer (at least for now) can be almost as high as the cost of a new FFF/FDM printer.

However, note thatfused filament fabrication printing firms typically have multiple printers because an FFF/FDM printer can make only one part at a time. Thus, the cost of maintaining multiple FFF/FDM printers could be equivalent to maintaining a single MJF printer. In this case, maintenance costs would be approximately the same.

3 Reasons to Consider a Multi Jet Fusion Printer

Multi Jet Fusion
Above: HP’s Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) 3D Printer/Image Credit: HP Inc.

The following are the main reasons you may want to go with a multi jet fusion printer.

1.    Impressive Speed

If 3D printing speed is key to your business operations, HP’s multi jet fusion printer is better than FFF/FDM printers (and, frankly, other printers using different 3D printing technology). HP’s MJF printer can print-manufacture parts up to 10 times faster than other 3D printing solutions in the market.

2.    Superb Quality

Multi Jet Fusion printers produce superbly polished parts characterized by excellent dimensional accuracy and high contouring precision, with a minimum feature or detail of 0.1 mm. The technology itself allows for versatile parts finishing to ensure fidelity to the design. MJF printing, therefore, offers better design flexibility than FFF/FDM printing.

MJF printed parts also have superior strength because MJF printers produce more homogenous isotropic prints. In other words, parts printed through MJF 3D printing have consistent or uniform orientation in every direction. This means better structural integrity overall.

FFF/FDM printers, however, melt and extrude plastic filaments. While the materials are perfectly isotropic, to begin with, the melting and extrusion processes can reorient the plastic fibers as they are layered on top of each other on the build plate.

In other words, the orientation of the print could be inconsistent from one layer to the next. This anisotropy or non-uniformity in orientation can negatively impact the cohesion and also the structural integrity of the printed part.

3.    Low Materials Cost and Great Value for Money

While it can be more expensive to procure an MJF printer, MJF printing significantly reduces the cost of manufacturing parts.

HP’s multi-jet fusion printer can pack the build unit in a way that maximizes the use of the build area. In MJF printing, there is no need for layers to have support structures. Therefore, parts can be stacked. Indeed, you can produce hundreds and even thousands of custom pipe fittings per build run.

The powder used in MJF printing is also relatively affordable at costs of around USD 45 per kilogram. Meanwhile, the cost of FFF/FDM materials could range from tens of dollars to hundreds of dollars per kilogram.

MJF printing runs may also be left unattended. This means that no time or resources are wasted on printing monitoring. MJF printers also allow you to collect a printing run’s residual or unused powder. You can use these on another build run, further reducing the cost of MJF built parts.

FFF or MJF: The Verdict

Fused filament fabrication is an established 3D printing technology. Thus, there is a wide variety of materials you can use with it and a wide range of products you can manufacture using it. FFF/FDM printers are also competitively priced.

However,Multi Jet Fusion printers offer incredible printing speeds and superior print quality, and if speed and quality are non-negotiables, MJF is the way to go. MJF’s bulk-printing capability, moreover, makes MJF printing more economical in the long run. You can also offer contract 3D printing to help defray the cost of acquiring an MJF printer.


AUTHOR BIO

Antoine El Kara is the Managing Director at Dynagraph, the leading player in the Middle Eastern graphics industry, specializing in offset, large format and 3D printing. A pioneer and early-adopter, backed by solid business sense and a well-defined support structure, Dynagraph offers a comprehensive range of tailor-made solutions, services and products, from preprint, print and post-print, to corrugating, converting and packaging solutions.