Looking Inside A 3D Printer Nozzle With Computed Tomography

Have you ever wondered what’s actually going on inside the hotend of your 3D printer? It doesn’t seem like much of a mystery — the filament gets melty, it gets squeezed out by the pressure of the incoming unmelty filament, and lather, rinse, repeat. Or is there perhaps more to the story?

To find out, a team from the University of Stuttgart led by [Marc Kreutzbruck] took the unusual step of putting the business end of a 3D printer into a CT scanner, to get a detailed look at what’s actually going on in there. The test setup consisted of a Bondtech LGX extruder and an E3D V6 hot end mounted to a static frame. There was no need for X-Y-Z motion control during these experiments, but a load cell was added to measure extrusion force. The filament was a bit specialized — high-impact polystyrene (HIPS) mixed with a little bit of tungsten powder added (1% by volume) for better contrast to X-ray. The test system was small enough to be placed inside a micro CT scanner, which generated both 360-degree computed tomography images and 2D radiographs.

The observations made with this experimental setup were pretty eye-opening. The main take-home message is that higher filament speed translates to less contact area between the nozzle wall and the melt, thanks to an air gap between the solid filament and the metal of the nozzle. They also saw an increased tendency for the incoming filament to buckle at high extruder speeds, which matches up with practical experience. Also, filament speed is more determinative of print quality (as measured by extrusion force) than heater temperature is. Although both obviously play a role, they recommend that if higher print speed is needed, the best thing to optimize is hot end geometry, specifically an extended barrel to allow for sufficient melting time.

Earth-shattering stuff? Probably not, but it’s nice to see someone doing a systematic study on this, rather than relying on seat-of-the-pants observations. And the images are pretty cool too.

Want Faster Extrusion But Don’t Have A Volcano? Nuts!

A lot of people want to print faster. Maybe they don’t like to wait, or they need to print a lot of things. Maybe it is just human nature to want to push things to go faster. The problem is, if you move filament too fast it may not have time to melt inside the hot end. To combat that, some people install a “volcano” — a larger heat block that takes a special longer nozzle. The melt zone is longer so there is more time for the filament to liquefy before shooting out of the nozzle. This is also a problem if you are using a very large nozzle size. But what if you don’t have one of these special hot ends? According to [Stefan], you can use a normal hotend with a volcano-style nozzle just by adding some common nuts. You can see the explanation in the video, below.

The idea came from a few commercial offerings that allow converting between different-sized melt zones. Some of these use the same idea. But, if you are familiar with [Stefan’s] videos, you know he tested the results thoroughly. The tests reveal that a standard V6-style hotend can handle rates of just over 9.8mm/second. with a 0.4mm nozzle at 210C and is usable beyond that. A true volcano hotend. starts deviating from the ideal at about 15mm/second and, also, is usable at even higher rates. But what about just using a long nozzle in a regular block with or without the nuts?

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