Just when you thought your 3D printer was hot stuff, along comes a 5D printer. Two doctoral students at Penn State want to add two more axes to get rid of overhangs. This means that instead of supports or breaking objects into pieces, the printer simply orients the print so each region of the part is printing as if it were flat. Of course, 5D printers aren’t really new, even though you don’t hear much about them. However, the paper details a new algorithm that eliminates manually defining print regions and rotations.
You do this all the time manually when you’re setting the print up. For example, if you want to print a letter T, you could print it with supports under the cross pieces or flip it upside down and print it with no support at all. The difference here is the printer can flip the workpiece itself to different angles and can change it on the fly during printing. The printer might print the shaft of the T, rotate it to draw half of the crossbar, then rotate it 180 degrees to print the other half. In all three zones, the print head is depositing materials flat with no overhang. In a simple case like a T that doesn’t really require a special machine or an algorithm, but in the general case, you often can’t just rotate a model to avoid using supports.
The proposed algorithm can take into account how much overhang angle the printer can handle so that it can reorient the model as few times as possible. Presumably, rotating the print is relatively time-consuming compared to just laying down a new layer.
We really wanted to see a picture of the 5D machine in operation, but we didn’t find any actual pictures. However, the video below is of a commercial 5D machine — presumably, you have to set it up manually — and it also shows a good example of how a part rotates to get flat prints. We honestly aren’t sure if the algorithm in the paper has actually been applied to real prints yet. The photos don’t look like the models are actually 3D printed.
We have to wonder if 5D will make it to the consumer 3D printing market. Then the marketing hype will kick in and we’ll have 20D printers driven by the marketing department.