Fused deposition modeling (FDM) has gained significant popularity, due to its accessibility, versatility, and relative affordability.  

However, like many manufacturing processes, FDM comes with its own set of pros and cons that are essential for businesses to consider when determining the most suitable additive manufacturing approach to their needs.  

What is FDM? 

FDM creates parts layer by layer using a thermoplastic filament. A computer-controlled nozzle extrudes melted filament onto a build platform following a predetermined path generated from a digital 3D model.  

As each layer is deposited and cooled, it fuses with the previous layer, gradually forming the desired object.  

FDM is widely used for prototyping, product development, and low-volume manufacturing due to its affordability, material versatility, and ease of use.  

Advantages of FDM 

  1. Cost-effectiveness: FDM stands out for its affordability, both in terms of initial investment and material costs. The technology employs relatively inexpensive thermoplastic filaments, making it an attractive option for prototyping and low-volume production runs.  
  1. Material variety: FDM supports a wide range of materials, including standard thermoplastics like ABS and PLA, as well as engineering-grade materials such as PETG, Nylon, and polycarbonate. This versatility enables manufacturers to create parts with varying mechanical properties, chemical resistance, and heat tolerance.  
  1. Customization and iteration: FDM empowers designers and engineers to rapidly iterate designs and customize components according to specific requirements. This agility is particularly beneficial in industries where rapid prototyping and product development are paramount.  
  1. No support structures required: Unlike some additive manufacturing techniques, FDM does not typically need the use of support structures, thanks to its layer-by-layer deposition process. This feature reduces material waste and simplifies post-processing efforts, ultimately streamlining production workflows.  

Considerations of FDM 

  1. Limited resolution and surface finish: FDM parts often exhibit visible layer lines and relatively coarse surface finishes compared to technologies like stereolithography (SLA) or selective laser sintering (SLS). While post-processing techniques such as sanding and painting can improve aesthetics, achieving ultra-smooth surfaces may require additional time and resources.  
  1. Mechanical properties: While FDM materials have evolved to offer enhanced mechanical properties, they may still fall short of the performance characteristics exhibited by parts produced using injection molding or CNC machining. Parts manufactured via FDM may exhibit reduced strength, stiffness, or dimensional accuracy, particularly when subjected to demanding applications or harsh environments.  
  1. Limited material compatibility: Although FDM supports a diverse array of materials, its compatibility is not universal. Certain specialized materials, such as high-temperature polymers or metal composites, may be unsuitable for FDM due to processing constraints or material limitations.  
  1. Slow production speed: FDM’s layer-by-layer deposition process inherently results in slower production speeds compared to technologies like SLA or SLS, which can sinter entire layers simultaneously. Consequently, FDM may not be the optimal choice or high-volume manufacturing scenarios where speed is of the essence.  
  1. Dimensional accuracy and warping: FDM parts are susceptible to dimensional inaccuracies and warping, especially when printing large or geometrically complex components. Factors such as thermal expansion, cooling rates, and build orientation can influence part distortion, necessitating careful consideration during the design and printing stages.  

When to Use FDM 

FDM is best suited for applications that prioritize cost-effectiveness, customization, and moderate mechanical properties over ultra-high resolution and surface finish. Industries such as automotive, aerospace, consumer goods, and medical can benefit from FDM’s ability to rapidly produce functional prototypes, tooling, jigs, fixtures, and end-use parts with reasonable accuracy and reliability.  

Materials for FDM  

FDM materials encompass a diverse spectrum of thermoplastic polymers, including but not limited to: 

Additionally, specialty filaments such as carbon fiber-reinforced composites, conductive polymers, and dissolvable support materials are available to expand the capabilities of FDM printing.  

Cost considerations  

While FDM printers offer an affordable entry point into additive manufacturing, businesses must factor in various cost considerations, including: 

  • Initial investment in FDM hardware and software  
  • Material costs, which vary depending on filament type and supplier  
  • Labor costs associated with design preparation, printing, and post-processing 
  • Maintenance and upkeep expenses for printer calibration, part cleaning, and equipment repairs  

Ultimately, the cost-effectiveness of FDM hinges on factors such as production volume, part complexity, material requirements, and desired quality standards.  


Fused deposition modeling (FDM) presents a compelling blend of affordability, versatility, and accessibility in the realm of additive manufacturing. When it may not deliver the highest resolution or mechanical performance compared to other technologies, FDM remains a valuable tool for prototyping, low-volume production, and rapid iteration in a wide range of industries.  

By weighing the advantages and disadvantages outlined above and aligning them with their specific application requirements, businesses can leverage FDM effectively to innovate, iterate, and bring their designs to life with efficiency and cost-effectiveness.