Let’s talk multi-material printing on desktop 3D printers. There are a lot of problems when printing in more than one color. The easiest way to do this is simply to add another extruder and hotend to a printer, but this reduces the build volume, adds more mass to the part of the printer that doesn’t need any more mass, and making sure each nozzle is at the correct Z-height is difficult. The best solution for multi-material printing is some sort of mixing hotend that only squirts plastic from one nozzle, fed by a Bowden system.
[Prusa], the man, not the printer, has just released a multi-material upgrade for the Prusa i3 mk2. This upgrade allows the i3 mk2 to print in four colors using only one hotend, and does it in a way that allows anyone to turn their printer into a multi-material powerhouse.
The basic idea behind this multi-material upgrade is a four-way Y-shaped filament path. Each color of filament is loaded into a separate extruder, and when the material is changed the currently ‘active’ filament is retracted out of the heater block to just before where the filament paths cross. After the filament is swapped in the hotend, the remainder of the previous color of filament is squirted out onto a small (3x5cm) tower.
Because this is an upgrade to the i3 mk2, Prusa needed a way to add three additional stepper motors to the build without having to replace the printer’s electronics board. He’s doing this with an SSR-based multiplexer that allows one stepper motor output and a few GPIOs to control four motors.
If you have an i3 mk2, a four- material upgrade for your printer will be available for $249 USD in a few months. That means a full color, four-extruder i3 mk 2 costs less than $1000 USD, a price no other multi-material printer can touch.
You can check out [Prusa’s] video of the multi-material upgrade below. The printer and the man will be touring the US for Maker Faire and Open Hardware Summit, and you can bet we’re going to get some video of this multi-material printer in action.