Complex 3D-printed designs often require the use of an automatically generated support structure around them for stability. While this enables some truly incredible results, it adds considerable time and cost to the printing process. Plus there’s the painstaking process of removing all the support material without damaging the object itself. If you’ve got a suitably high-end 3D printer, one solution to this problem is doing the supports in a water soluble filament; just toss the print into a bath and wait for the support to dissolve away.
But what if you’re trying to print something that’s complex and also needs to be soluble? That’s precisely what [Jacob Blitzer] has been experimenting with recently. The trick is finding two filaments that can be printed at the same time but are dissolved with two different solutions. His experimentation has proved it’s possible to do with consumer-level hardware, but it isn’t easy and it’s definitely not cheap.
You might be wondering what the possible application for this technique is. For [Jacob], he wanted to be able to print hollow molds in complex geometric shapes that would ultimately be filled with concrete. The molds required extensive internal supports that would have been all but impossible to remove if they weren’t printed in a soluble filament. But he also wanted to be able to dissolve the mold once the concrete inside had cured. So he needed one easy to dissolve filament for the supports, and a harder to dissolve one for the actual mold.
For the mold itself, [Jacob] went with High Impact Polystyrene (HIPS) which can be dissolved with an industrial degreaser called Limonene. It’s expensive, and rather nasty to work with, but it does an excellent job of eating away the HIPS so that’s one problem solved. Finding a water-soluble filament for the supports that could be printed at similar temperatures to the HIPS took months of research, but eventually he found one called HyroFill that fit the bill. Unfortunately, it costs an eye-watering $175 USD per kilogram.
So you have the filaments, but what can actually print them at the same time? Multi-material 3D printing is a tricky topic, and there’s a few different approaches that have been developed over the years. In the end, [Jacob] opted to go with the FORMBOT T-Rex that uses the old-school method of having two individual hotends and extruders. It’s the simplest method conceptually, but calibrating such a machine is notoriously difficult. Running two exotic and temperamental filaments at the same time certainly doesn’t help matters.
After all the time, money, and effort put into the project (he also had to write the software that would create the 3D models in the first place) [Jacob] says he’s not exactly thrilled with the results. He’s produced some undeniably stunning pieces, but the failure rate is very high. Still, it’s fascinating research that appears to be the first of its kind, so we’re glad that he’s shared it for the benefit of the community and look forward to seeing where it goes from here.