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Fused filament fabrication (FFF) is one of the most popular additive manufacturing (3D printing) technologies due to the growing availability of low-cost desktop 3D printers and the relatively low cost of the thermoplastic filament used in the 3D printing process. Commercial filament suppliers, 3D printer manufacturers, and end-users regard filament diameter tolerance as an important indicator of the 3D printing quality. Irregular filament diameter affects the flow rate during the filament extrusion, which causes poor surface quality, extruder jams, irregular gaps in-between individual extrusions, and/or excessive overlap, which eventually results in failed 3D prints. Despite the important role of the diameter consistency in the FFF process, few studies have addressed the required tolerance level to achieve highest 3D printing quality. The objective of this work is to develop the testing methods to measure the filament tolerance and control the filament fabrication process. A pellet-based extruder is utilized to fabricate acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) filament using a nozzle of 1.75 mm in diameter. Temperature and extrusion rate are controlled parameters. An optical comparator and an array of digital calipers are used to measure the filament diameter. The results demonstrate that it is possible to achieve high diameter consistency and low tolerances (0.01mm) at low extrusion temperature (180 °C) and low extrusion rate (10 in/min).
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