Low Cost Metal 3D Printing By Electrochemistry

[Billy Wu] has been writing for a few years about electrochemical 3D printing systems that can handle metal. He’s recently produced a video that you can see below about the process. Usually, printing in metal means having a high-powered laser and great expense. [Wu’s] technique is an extension of electroplating.

Boiling down the gist of the process, the print head is a syringe full of electroplating solution. Instead of plating a large object, you essentially electroplate on tiny areas. The process is relatively slow and if you speed it up too much, the result will have undesirable properties. But there are some mind-bending options here. By using print heads with different electrolytes, you can print using different metals. For example, the video shows structures made of both copper and nickel. You can also reverse the current and remove metal instead of depositing it.

This looks like something you could pretty readily replicate in a garage. Electroplating is well-understood and the 3D motion parts could be a hacked 3D printer. Sure, the result is slow but, after all, slow is a relative term. You might not mind taking a few days to print a metal object compared to the cost and trouble of creating it in other ways. Of course, since this is copper, we also have visions of printing circuit board traces on a substrate. We imagine you’d have to coat the board with something to make it conductive and then remove that after all the copper was in place. When you build this, be sure to tell us about it.

We’ve seen electroplating pens before and that’s really similar to this idea. Of course, you can also make your 3D prints conductive and plate them which is probably faster but isn’t really fully metal.

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Cura Plugin Offers Custom Support

[Chuck] likes the ability of Simplify3D to add support to parts of a model manually. However, not everyone wants to spend $150 for a slicer, so he’s shared how to install a plugin that allows you to do the same trick in Cura.

The plugin is “Cylindric Custom Support.” That doesn’t sound very exciting, but you get five choices of shapes you can create custom supports easily. There are also size and angle parameters you can use to customize the effect.

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3D Printing Without Support Material Thanks To An Additional Axis

Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) 3D printers which squirt out molten plastic layer by layer are by far the most popular type in general use. Most machines extrude plastic through a nozzle above print bed, and struggle to produce parts with overhangs without using support material. However, a German team of researchers have recently come up with a solution.

In a prototype built by researchers at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW), a standard Cartesian printer has a third rotary axis added, upon which the nozzle can rotate. Additionally, the nozzle is angled at 45 degrees to the print bed, rather than the usual perpendicular setup. This allows layers of a print to be built up in such a way that support material is not needed for the vast majority of typical overhangs. This is particularly useful for hollow parts, where removing support material can be particularly difficult.

The team believes that such technology could be implemented on existing printers by way of a simple upgrade kit, and we can imagine a few experimenters will be champing at the bit to try it out. If you do, be sure to drop us a line. Alternatively, consider using a marker to make removing supports easier. Video after the break.

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Programmable Filament For Multicolor Printing

A recent research paper shows a way to create multicolor 3D prints using a single extruder if you are too lazy to babysit the machine and switch filament. The concept: print your own “programmable” filament that has the right colors in the right place. This is the same idea as manually splicing filament but presumably is more efficient since the process works with one color at a time and doesn’t repeat. In other words, to print the 64 squares of a chessboard you’d swap filament at least 64 times on each layer. Using programmable filament, you’d load one spool, print half of the filament, load another spool, print the other half, and then finally load the newly created filament and print the chessboard. Notice that the first two operations aren’t printing the chessboard. They are printing the spool of filament you feed through on the third pass.

There are machines made to do this, of course, although they generally just splice lengths of filament together for you automatically. Using one filament solves the problems of keeping multiple heads in alignment as well as the added cost and complexity. However, you now have different problems such as the transition between materials and knowing exactly how much material will be at each point in the print.

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Hacking A 3D Pen For Better Performance

When 3D pens first became available, many assumed them to be gimmicky or part of a general fad that would eventually die out. Like most revolutionary technologies, though, they’ve found a firm foothold, especially in the art community where the ability to 3D print in freehand is incredibly valuable. There are still some shortcomings with the technology, though, but [tterev3] recently tore into a 3doodler pen to make some necessary upgrades.

First, this pen has some design choices that are curious, to say the least. The cooling fan runs regardless of temperature, and it has pushbuttons for start and stop rather than a momentary button that controls the extrusion. To fix these issues, as well as change the filament size, improve the cooling, and provide greater control over the extrusion speed, [tterev3] completely rewrote the firmware, changed the microcontroller on the PCB, and made several hardware upgrades to accommodate these changes. He also went ahead and installed a USB-C port for charging, which should be standard practice on all low-voltage consumer electronics by now anyway.

The detail work on this project is impressive, given the small size of the pen itself and the amount of precision hardware needed to make the changes. Especially regarding the replacement of the microcontroller on the board itself, which is an impressive feat even without the incredibly small dimensions. The firmware upgrade is available on his GitHub page as well if you have your own 3doodler that needs modifications, and if you’re still struggling to find uses for these handy devices, we’ve seen them used with interesting effect to build drones.

3D Printing In Five Axes Makes The World Flat

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.

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Xolography: A Method To Improve The Accuracy Of Volumetric 3D Printing

Over the past years, additive manufacturing (AM) has become a common tool for hackers and makers, with first FDM and now SLA 3D printers becoming affordable for the masses. While these machines are incredibly useful, they utilize a slow layer-by-layer approach to produce objects. A relatively new technology called Volumetric Additive Manufacturing (VAM) promises to change all that by printing the entire object in one go, and according to a recent article in Nature, it just got a big resolution boost.

The concept is similar to SLA printing, but instead of curing the resin by projecting a 2D image of the current layer into the container, VAM uses multiple lasers to create intersecting points within the liquid. After exposing the resin to this projection for several seconds, the 3D model is built all at once. Not only is this far faster, but it removes the need for support materials and even a traditional build plate is unnecessary.

Visualization of the dual-color printing process as used by Regehly et al. (Credit: Nature)

Up till now the resolution and maximum object size of VAM has left a lot to be desired, but in this new research by Regehly et al. claim to have accomplished a feature resolution of ‘up to 25 micrometers’ and a solidification rate of ‘up to 55 cm3/s’. They used two crossing laser beams of different wavelengths, one to form the ‘light sheet’ (blue in the graphic) and a second beam (in red) to project the slide onto this light sheet. They refer to this technique as ‘xolography’, as a mesh-up of ‘holo’ (Greek for ‘whole’) and the ‘X’ shape formed by the crossing laser beams.

Key to making this work is the chemistry of the resin: the first wavelength excites the molecules called DCPI (Dual-Color Photo Initiators) that are dissolved in the resin. The second wavelength when hitting the same molecules initiates the resin polymerization process. The object pictured at the top of the page was a test print; producing such a design on a traditional 3D printer would have required a considerable amount of difficult to remove support material.

While this is obviously not a technology hobbyists will be using to replace their FDM and SLA printers with any time soon, there are still many companies and institutes working on various VAM technologies and approaches. As more and more of the complexities and challenges are dealt with, who knows when VAM may become a viable replacement for at least some SLA applications?

Thanks to [Qes] for the tip.