MIT Is Building a Better 3D Printer

Traditional desktop 3D printing technology has effectively hit a wall. The line between a $200 and a $1000 printer is blurrier now than ever before, and there’s a fairly prevalent argument in the community that you’d be better off upgrading two cheap printers and pocketing the change than buying a single high-end printer if the final results are going to be so similar.

The reason for this is simple: physics. Current printers have essentially hit the limits of how fast the gantry can move, how fast plastic filament can pushed through the extruder, and how fast that plastic can be melted. To move forward, we’re going to need to come up with something altogether different. Recently a team from MIT has taken the first steps down that path by unveiling a fundamental rethinking of 3D printing that specifically addresses the issues currently holding all our machines back, with a claimed 10-fold increase in performance over traditional printing methods.

MIT’s revolutionary laser-assisted hot end.

As anyone who’s pushed their 3D printer a bit too hard can tell you, the first thing that usually happens is the extruder begins to slip and grind the filament down. As the filament is ground down it starts depositing plastic on the hobbed gear, further reducing grip in the extruder and ultimately leading to under-extrusion or a complete print failure. To address this issue, MIT’s printer completely does away with the “pinch wheel” extruder design and replaces it with a screw mechanism that pulls special threaded filament down into the hot end. The vastly increased surface area between the filament and the extruder allows for much higher extrusion pressure.

An improved extruder doesn’t do any good if you can’t melt the incoming plastic fast enough to keep up with it, and to that end MIT has pulled out the really big guns. Between the extruder and traditional heater block, the filament passes through a gold-lined optical cavity where it is blasted with a pulse modulated 50 W laser. By closely matching the laser wavelength to the optical properties of the plastic, the beam is able to penetrate the filament and evenly bring it up to nearly the melting point. All without physically touching the filament and incurring frictional losses.

There are still technical challenges to face, but this research may well represent the shape of things to come for high-end printers. In other words, don’t expect a drop-in laser hot end replacement for your $200 printer anytime soon; the line is about to get blurry again.

Speeding up 3D printing is a popular topic lately, and for good reason. While 3D printing is still a long way off from challenging traditional manufacturing in most cases, it’s an outstanding tool for use during development and prototyping. The faster you can print, the faster you can iterate your design.

Thanks to [Maave] for the tip.

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Automate Wire Prep with a Robot Wire Cutter

When you move from one-off builds to production scale, perhaps to meet that Kickstarter commitment or to keep your Tindie store stocked, you’re going to need to tool up. Jobs like building wiring harnesses can be tedious and time-consuming, so outsourcing them to this robot wire cutter might be a good idea.

The video below tells the whole tale of this build, which despite the fact that [Maclsk] seems to have put it together quickly from scrap bin parts still looks pretty professional. The business end of the machine is a 3D printer extruder, minus the hot end, of course. A Nano controls the extruder’s stepper to shoot out the right length of wire, as well as the servo that squeezes the snippers. An LCD display and some pushbuttons provide the UI that rounds out the build. Tell it how long and how many, and you’ll be ready to build. We can see how this might be upgraded to strip the wires as well, although getting both ends stripped might be tricky.

Might this component tape-cutting robot from a few weeks back have inspired [Maclsk]’s build? Perhaps, but in any case, both are fun to watch.

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MakerBot Really Wants You To Like Them Again

For the last couple years, a MakerBot press release has generally signaled that more pink slips were going to be heading out to the already shell-shocked employees at their NYC factory. But just last week something that could almost pass as good news came out of the once mighty 3D printer manufacturer, the unveiling of “MakerBot Labs”. A number of mainstream tech sites heralded this as MakerBot’s first steps back into the open source community that launched it nearly a decade ago; signs of a newer and more thoughtful MakerBot.

Reading the announcement for “MakerBot Labs”, you can almost believe it. All the buzz words are there, at least. In fact, if this announcement came from anyone else, in any other field, I’d probably be on board. Sharing knowledge and listening to the community is essential if you want to connect with hackers and makers. But this is MakerBot, and they’ve dug themselves into a very deep hole over the years.

The spectacular fall from grace that MakerBot has experienced, from industry leader to afterthought, makes this hat-in-hand peace offering hard to take seriously. It reads like a company making a last ditch effort to win back the users they were so sure they didn’t need just a few years ago. There is now a whole new generation of 3D printer owners who likely have never even seen a MakerBot printer, and it’s hard to imagine there’s still enough innovation and life in the company to turn that around before they completely fade into obscurity.

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3D Printer Tool Changer Gives You Access to Lots of Extruders

The benefits of having a 3D printer with multiple extruders are numerous: you can print soluble support material for easy removal, print a combination of flexible and rigid filament, or simply print in different colors. Unfortunately, traditional multi-extruder setups have some serious drawbacks, even aside from the cost.

Usually, the extruders are all mounted next to each other on a single carriage. This increases the mass, which can cause print quality issues like shadowing. It also reduces the printable area, as each extruder needs to be able to reach the entire area. All of this means that the design becomes more and more impractical with each extruder you add, and that’s why it’s uncommon to see more than two extruders on a printer.

Over on Hackaday.io, [rolmie] has come up with a very practical (and affordable) solution to this problem. He has designed a tool changer that gives the printer the ability to switch out hot ends on the fly. The system is very similar to the tool changers we see on CNC machining centers: tools (the hotends) are stored on a rack, and a tool change in the G-code sends the carriage over to the rack to drop off the old hotend and pick up a new one.

The benefit of the design is that both the mass and volume of the carriage are kept to a minimum, while allowing you to use many different hot ends. Each hotend’s settings can be configured individually, and you can even use different models of hotend altogether (maybe one model works better for PLA, while another is better for ABS). The design is still in the prototyping stage and needs some refinement, but it’s a very promising proof of concept that seems like it could be implemented fairly easily into most 3D printer models.

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Additive + Subtractive = One Powerful Machine

It says it right on the title of the video below: it was bound to happen eventually. It’s only natural that somebody would stick a 3D printer extruder on the business end of a CNC machine. The long-awaited convergence of additive and subtractive manufacturing is here.

OK, that may be overstating things a bit, but we think [Chris DePrisco] is on to something here. Given the considerable investment he’s made in his DIY CNC machine, an enormous vertical machining center that looks a little like a homebrew Bridgeport, it was a no-brainer to take advantage of the huge XYZ stage. Mounting the Titan Aero extruder to the quill required some custom parts; fair warning that the video below is heavy on machining, but it’s not the seven hours of video he streamed when he milled the heated aluminum bed. Skip ahead to about the six-minute mark if you want to see the first prints and how he optimized the setup.

As we watched [Chris]’ video, we were struck by the potential for adding 3D printing to CNC milling machines. What we’d like to see is a setup where the spindle and the extruder work together to build more complex parts. Or maybe a tool-changing CNC that can pick up a spindle, an extruder, and maybe even a laser or plasma cutter head. Now that would be a powerful machine!

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MRRF 17: E3D Introduces Combination Extruder And Hotend

Since the beginning of time, or 2006, the ‘hot glue gun’ part of our CNC hot glue guns have had well-defined parts. The extruder is the bit that pushes plastic through a tube, and the hot end is where all the melty bits are. These are separate devices, even though a shorter path from the extruder to hotend is always better. From Wade’s gear extruder to a nozzle made from an acorn nut, having the hotend and extruder as separate devices has become the standard.

This week at the Midwest RepRap Festival, E3D unveiled the Titan Aero. It’s an extruder and hotend rolled into one that provides better control over the filament, gives every printer more build height, and reduces the mass of a 3D printer toolhead.

 

The aluminum thermal block of the Titan Aero

The Titan Aero, revealed on the E3D blog yesterday, is the next iteration of E3D’s entry into the extruder market. It’s a strange mashup of their very popular V6 hotend, with the heat break coupled tightly to the extruder body. A large fan provides the cooling, and E3D’s thermal simulations show this setup will work well.

The core component of the Aero extruder is a fancy and complex piece of milled aluminum. This is the heatsink for the extruder and provides the shortest path possible between the hobbed gear and the nozzle. This gives the Aero better control over the extrusion of molten plastic and makes this the perfect extruder and hotend setup for hard to print materials.

Combine the Aero with a smaller ‘pancake’ stepper motor, and you have a very small, very light hotend and extruder. This makes it perfect for the small printers we’re so fond of and for printers built for fast acceleration. I can easily see a few end effectors for Delta-style printers built around this extruder in the near future.

E3D’s Volcano nozzle sock

Also at the E3D booth were a few prototypes of nozzle socks. Late last year, E3D released silicone nozzle covers – we’re calling them nozzle socks – for their V6 hotend. These are small silicone covers designed to keep that carbonized crap off of your fancy, shiny hotend. It’s not something that’s necessary for a good print, but it does keep filament from sticking to your hotend, and you get the beautiful semantic satiation of saying the words nozzle socks.

E3D’s other hotend, the Volcano, a massive and powerful hotend designed to push a lot of plastic out fast, did not get its own nozzle sock at the time. Now, the prototypes are out, and the E3D guys expect them to be released, ‘in about a month’.

DIY Syringe Pump Saves Big Bucks for Hacker’s Lab

If you had a choice between going to your boss and asking for funds for a new piece of gear, would you rather ask for $3000 to buy off-the-shelf, or $200 for the parts to build the same thing yourself? Any self-respecting hacker knows the answer, and when presented with an opportunity to equip his lab with a new DIY syringe pump for $200, [Dr. D-Flo] rose to the challenge.

The first stop for [Dr. D-Flo] was, naturally, Hackaday.io, which is where he found [Naroom]’s syringe pump project. It was a good match for his budget and his specs, but he needed to modify some of the 3D printed parts a little to fit the larger syringes he intended to use. The base is aluminum extrusion, the drive train is a stepper motor spinning threaded rod and a captive nut in the plunger holders, and an Arduino and motor shield control everything. The drive train will obviously suffer from a fair amount of backlash, but this pump isn’t meant for precise dispensing so it shouldn’t matter. We’d worry a little more about the robustness of the printed parts over time and their compatibility with common lab solvents, but overall this was a great build that [Dr. D-Flo] intends to use in a 3D food printer. We look forward to seeing that one.

It’s getting so that that you can build almost anything for the lab these days, from peristaltic pumps to centrifuges. It has to be hard to concentrate on your science when there’s so much gear to make.

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