Fused Deposition Modeling
This is the mainstream hobbyist process for what is generally called three-dimensional printing. Abbreviated as “FDM”. Thermo-plastic is heated past its meting point and extruded through a print head moving in 2-1/2 dimensions. Layer upon layer is built up into a three-dimensional object.
Its best application is rapid prototyping objects that will be manufactured by traditional processes with more durable materials. The process of 3D printing is faster and cheaper for size and shape prototypes. Next best application is simply plastic modeling. In many uses, it is a satisfactory way to make something in plastic. In my opinion it is not a replacement for injection molding plastic for high volume mass production of durable plastic items.
As a hobbyist / artist (hobbyist slash artist) who loves to make things, I jumped into the sea of 3D printing when I discovered the hardware (printers) had become very affordable for hobbyist. Mine were in the $300-$400 range plus supplies. Supplies are mostly but not entirely the plastic filament sold on spools at $50-$25 depending on brand and supposed quality.
I have melted well over a hundred spools of plastic filament over several years. I have invested considerable time and material expense and have had a lot of enjoyment as well as occasional frustration making many things of plastic.
I also experimented with a printing process that uses a plastic based resin that cures to a solid form with Ultra-Violet light exposure. It too is a multiple layer process. It is extremely messy and complex but produces higher quality (smaller layer) plastic items. Object size is limited in my use by the size of the print area.
I published several website blogs dedicated to three-dimensional printing. The one survivor is https://dimensionalprint.org/. Some of my other blogs also contain reference and writeups on my 3D printing activities. Suffice to say, It has been an interesting and rewarding journey. I have been totally involved with the process at a hobbyist level and have become very proficient with the design and making of plastic items.
I coined a term I now use and have used it as the identity for most of the items I have made. That term is Plastic Junque. Junque is a fancy spelling of junk. I have personally realized the bottom line for me is that I have made some “plastic” items of functional value that “should be plastic” and a huge number of junk items that are toys, or display thingies of little or no lasting value.
Lasting value to me is something I have created that represents my human skills and abilities to produce heirloom quality objects that will exist well past my demise. Printed plastic “Junque” doesn’t fill that vision of lasting worth and value. Push start and a “replicator” machine makes the item.
I can design (draw) something but an automated machine totally “makes” it. No human craftsmanship. It’s the single print and done that disturbs me. Make 20 different parts, then assemble, is better. But still, it is plastic. Like the glued plastic model kits I assembled as a kid. Interesting but no real value. Destined to become landfill junk.
What to Do
No, not stop making the Junque. Plastic has its place. I have tried very hard to find an excuse for three-dimensional printing. I discovered an excuse is not required. It is what it is, plastic. When I need something made from plastic, I have mastered a process that will produce it.
My realization is plastic does not replace all conventional material and methods for producing high quality items of enduring value.
The coronation crown for the monarch of Britain will never be made from FDM plastic, but a cheap imitation scale model might.
That illustrates my point. Do I want to continue making only imitation plastic Junque, or a historic crown of gold and jewels fit for a real queen or king?
I don’t see crown-making in my future. Silver crafting (wax carving), wood working, metal craft (machine shop) are all at my avail. The “Sirens of Greek Mythology” are calling for my return from the plastic seas of Junque, to high quality items produced using a real craftsman process and tools. Will I just crash on the rocks?
No, it’s from where I came, and I know their tricks. Just lash me to the mast until we get to port. I have some work to do when I get back home…