Our FDM 3D printer or sometimes known as a 3D Rapid Prototyper is a machine that print’s out a solid form using a plastic filament material.  FDM stands for Fused Deposition Modelling and is an Additive Manufacturing (AM) technology.  Today it is probably the most common form of 3D printing technology and machines range from low end hobbist machines to high end professional systems.  Our machine is an Ultimaker 3 Extended and would be considered a semi-professional machine in the current market.  Essentially an FDM printer works like an automated glue gun.  Hard plastic filament is fed through a heated element and then extruded in molten form on to a plate.  The head is automatically controlled to lay the plastic on the plate in the form of a slice of the 3D model and these layers are then printed one on top of the other to slowly produce the full models form.

What materials can I use?

The FDM 3D printer can only print in a selection of different plastics and no other materials the range that it can print with are listed below but please note that we do not supply all types.  The filaments come in a wide range of colours and some have special features:


  • PLA (Polylactic Acid) – General Purpose and Renewable
  • ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) – General Purpose but tougher
  • Nylon – Great for mechanical parts
  • CPE (Copolyester) – Tough and Durable
  • PC (Polycarbonate) – Tough and suitable for High Temperatures
  • PP (Polypropylene) – Stress resistant
  • TPU 95A (Thermoplastic Polyurethane) – Semi-flexible properties
  • PVA (Polyvinyl Alcohol) – Water soluable, great support material

Please be aware that we normally only provide PLA and PVA.  We may have stock of some other types so please check with the Technical Demonstrator.

What are the limitations?

FDM 3D printers are very good for general purpose medium quality prints.  Good results can be expected but it very much depends on the overall design of the model.  The machine can print in a variety of slice thicknesses between 0.06mm and 0.2mm.  The thicker the slice the lower the print quality but faster the print.  The extrution profile can also be switched from 0.4mm to 0.8mm to speed the print up even more.

What size can I print?

The printer can print a large volume especially in height.  These dimensions below can vary dependant on support material requirements, so it is always best to ensure your model is below these.  Your model may also need re-orienting to ensure the best print quality so overall dimentions could be affected.

Width (x): 210mm

Depth (y): 210mm

Height (z): 300mm

How much does it cost?

We charge for the use of the 3D printer by material weight.  The majority of our filaments are priced at 10p per gram so a 50g print would cost £5.  Some of our filaments are more expensive though and so some will be charged at a higher rate if you choose them.  For example if you need to use PVA support material this is charged at a higher rate of 15p per gram.

How do I prepare a file?

For the 3D printers to be able to print an object it requires the use of a 3D model created in a modelling software.  This model would need to have been created in a software such as Rhino 6, Cinema 4D, Solidworks or any other modelling software which can save a file as a Stereolithography file (.stl).

When preparing your file there are certain things that you will need to ensure before you send this to us.

1. When you export your file all seperate componants should be exported as individual files rather than one whole piece.

2. Make sure that your file is at the correct scale to be printed.  All .stl files export to mm.  So you need to ensure the dimentions are converted to the mm equivalent if you have been working in a program that uses cm for example.

3. Componants that are connected should have been Booleaned together into one model.  Printing a file whilst seperate parts overlap can cause errors.

4. Your model should be considered closed for your print to work.  Any file that is still considered open will only be printed if the file looks ok in the printers native software.  You can check if your model is closed in the object properties panel.

5. When exporting ensure you have exported at the right tollerance or polygon density.  The tighter (lower figure) the tollerance the better the quality of print.  The lower the tollerance (higher figure) the lower the quality and more faceted your print will look.

File Preparation for Rhino 6

If using Rhino 6 to prepare your model please follow the instructions below to export your file.

1. Ensure that your final model parts are booleaned together if they are supposed to be attached.

2. Select the part you want to export and type ‘export‘ in the command bar or go to File > Export Selected…

3. In the export menu choose ‘Stereolithography (.STL)‘ as the file type and click Save

4. When prompted adjust the tolerance of the export to quality of export you want to achieve. The tolerance is a measurement in millimetres of how far away the polygon surface can be from the original form.  The smaller the tollerance measurement the closer the polygon surface will be and the more polygons there will be in the model.  The more polygons there are the smoother the surface you will have.  0.01mm is a good standard to work with but on large models this can make the file size large, so on larger files you may want to consider a tolerance between 0.05mm and 0.1mm. You can preview the mesh that will be created by clicking on the Preview button.  Once happy click on OK.

5. Finally choose the .STL type.  For 3D prints it is best to stick to Binary.  If the file export size looks like it is going to be too big at this stage you can go back and adjust the tolerance.  If happy with this click on OK to complete the export.  You will be prompted in the command bar once the export is complete.

Preparing a Print Ready file in Cura

Our printer uses a native software called Cura, which is installed on the PC’s in Room 140.  If you want to learn how to use cura to set up your .STL file to print please sign-up to our 3D Printing Set-Up demonstration.
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