RepRap 3D printers were designed with the ultimate goal of self-replicating machines. The generatively-designed Gen5X printer by [Ric Real] brings the design step of that process closer to reality.
While 5-axis printing is old hat in CNC land, it remains relatively rare in the world of additive manufacturing. Starting with “a set of primitives… and geometric relationships,” [Real] ran the system through multiple generations to arrive at its current design. Since this is a generative design, future variants could look different depending on which parameters you have the computer optimize.
For the uninitiated in the dark arts of printing in the third dimension, the canonical definition of non-conical slicing has been to bisect the model at layer height intervals and generate the perimeter and the infill, then output that as g-code. This is easy to implement mathematically and works reasonably well, except when you have overhangs of more than about 60 degrees on most printers. The idea of slicing in a cone rather than a plane isn’t entirely novel as we previously covered RotBot, which offers a vertical axis of rotation and a print head at 45 degrees. What is extraordinary is that the technique [Stefan] walks you through is done with a stock printer without a complex 45-degree tilt and is a software modification rather than a hardware tweak.
[Stefan] references earlier work done by [Michael Wüthrich] of ZHAW School of Engineering, who wrote some scripts that apply the transformation. The slicer is SuperSlicer, a fork of the PrusaSlicer, which is itself a fork of slic3r. The modified g-code is exported and can be sent to a printer of your choice. He even has a link to a pre-sliced model to try it out.
Of course, different printers have different clearance levels, but the Prusa Mini he uses has 16 degrees of clearance with the sensor pushed up. The code is on GitHub. It’s fascinating to note how all these techniques and forks interact and build off each other. Whether tilted slices, conical slices, or something else ultimately becomes the de facto standard, we’re looking forward to more options for slicing.
It is no secret that the way you build things in your garage is rarely how big companies build things at scale. But sometimes new techniques on the production floor leak over to the hobby builder and vice versa, so it pays to keep an eye on what the other side is doing. Maybe that was the idea behind [Carolyn Schwaar’s] post on All3DP entitled “Beyond Cura Slicer: 3D Printing Build Prep Software for Pros.” In it, she looks at a few programs that commercial-grade 3D printers use for slicing.
The differences in the software we typically use and those meant to work with a dedicated high-end machine are pretty marked, but maybe not in the way you would expect. While you might expect them to have tight integration with their target machine, you might not expect that they usually offer less control over parameters than a product like Cura. As a quote in the post points out, Cura has over 400 settings. Commercial 3D printers don’t have time to tweak those settings endlessly. So the emphasis is more on canned profiles that just work.
Not all of the programs are tied to machines, though. Commercial CAD offerings are becoming more capable with 3D printers and can sometimes slice and send jobs to printers directly. Regardless of software type, though, everyone needs certain functions: design, repair, simulation, build plate layout, and more.
If you are looking for a hobby-grade slicer other than Cura, we’ve been using SuperSlicer which is a fork of PrusaSlicer, which is a fork of Slic3r lately.
It always seemed to us that the Z-axis on a 3D printer, or pretty much any CNC machine for that matter, is criminally underused. To have the X- and Y-axes working together to make smooth planar motions while the Z-axis just sits there waiting for its big moment, which ends up just moving the print head and the bed another fraction of a millimeter from each other just doesn’t seem fair. Can’t the Z-axis have a little more fun?
Of course it can, and while non-planar 3D printing is nothing new, [Stefan] over at CNC Kitchen shows us a literal twist on the concept, with this four-axis non-planar printer. For obvious reasons, it’s called the “RotBot” and it comes via the Zurich University of Applied Sciences, where [Michael Wüthrich] and colleagues have been experimenting with different slicing strategies to make overhang printing more manageable. The hardware side of things is actually pretty intuitive, especially if you’ve ever seen an industrial waterjet cutter in action. They modified a Prusa printer by adding a rotating extension to the print head, putting the nozzle at a 45° angle to the print bed. A slip ring connects the heater and fan and allows the head to rotate 360°, with the extruder living above the swiveling head.
On the software side, the Zurich team came up with some clever workarounds to make conical slicing work using off-the-shelf slicers. As [Stefan] explains, the team used a “pre-deformation” step to warp the model and trick the slicer into generating the conical G-code. The G-code is then back-transformed in exactly the opposite process as pre-deformation before being fed to the printer. The transformation steps are done with a bit of Python code, and the results are pretty neat. Watching the four axes all work together simultaneous is quite satisfying, as are the huge overhangs with no visible means of support.
The academic paper on this is probably worth a read, and thankfully the code for everything is all open-sourced. We’re interested to see if this catches on with the community.
One may think that when it comes to 3D printing, slicing software is pretty much a solved problem. Take a 3D model, slice it into flat layers equal to layer height, and make a toolpath so the nozzle can create those layers one at a time. However, as 3D printing becomes more complex and capable, this “flat planar slicing” approach will eventually become a limitation because a series of flat slices won’t necessarily the best way to treat all objects (nor all materials or toolheads, for that matter.)
[René K. Müller] works to re-imagine slicing itself, and shows off the results of slicing 3D models using non-planar geometries. There are loads of pictures of a 20 mm cube being sliced with a variety of different geometries, so be sure to give it a look. There’s a video embedded below the page break that covers the main points.
It’s all forward-thinking stuff, and [René] certainly makes some compelling points in favor of a need for universal slicing; a system capable of handling any geometry, with the freedom to process along any path or direction. This is a concept that raises other interesting questions, too. For example, when slicing a 20 mm cube with non-planar geometries, the resulting slices often look strange. What’s the best way to create a toolpath for such a slice? After all, some slicing geometries are clearly better for the object, but can’t be accommodated by normal hot ends (that’s where a rotating, tilted nozzle comes in.)
I’ve had a few conversations over the years with people about the future of 3D printing. One of the topics that arises frequently is the slicer, the software that turns a 3D model into paths for a 3D printer. I thought it would be a good idea to visualize what slicing, and by extension 3D printing, could be. I’ve always been a proponent of just building something, but sometimes it’s very easy to keep polishing the solution we have now rather than looking for and imagining the solutions that could be. Many of the things I’ll mention have been worked on or solved in one context or another, but not blended into a cohesive package.
I believe that fused deposition modelling (FDM), which is the cheapest and most common technology, can produce parts superior to other production techniques if treated properly. It should be possible to produce parts that handle forces in unique ways such that machining, molding, sintering, and other commonly implemented methods will have a hard time competing with in many applications.
Re-envisioning the slicer is no small task, so I’m going to tackle it in three articles. Part One, here, will cover the improvements yet to be had with the 2D and layer height model of slicing. It is the first and most accessible avenue for improvement in slicing technologies. It will require new software to be written but does not dramatically affect the current construction of 3D printers today. It should translate to every printer currently operating without even a firmware change.
Part Two will involve making mechanical changes to the printer: multiple materials, temperatures, and nozzle sizes at least. The slicer will need to work with the printer’s new capabilities to take full advantage of them.
Finally, in Part Three, we’ll consider adding more axes. A five axis 3D printer with advanced software, differing nozzle geometries, and multi material capabilities will be able to produce parts of significantly reduced weight while incorporating internal features exceeding our current composites in many ways. Five axis paths begin to allow for weaving techniques and advanced “grain” in the layers put down by the 3D printer.