E3D Teaches Additive 3D-Printers How To Subtract

We might’ve thought that extrusion based 3D printers have hit their peak in performance capabilities. With the remaining process variables being tricky to model and control, there’s only so much we can expect on dimensional accuracy from extruded plastic processes. But what if we mixed machines, adding a second machining process to give the resulting part a machined quality finish? That’s exactly what the folks at E3D have been cooking up over the last few years: a toolchanging workflow that mixes milling and 3D printing into the same process to produce buttery smooth part finishes with tighter dimensional accuracy over merely 3D printing alone.

Dubbed ASMBL (Additive/Subtractive Machining By Layer), the process is actually the merging of two complimentary processes combined into one workflow to produce a single part. Here, vanilla 3D printing does the work of producing the part’s overall shape. But at the end of every layer, an endmill enters the workspace and trims down the imperfections of the perimeter with a light finishing pass while local suction pulls away the debris. This concept of mixing og coarse and fine manufacturing processes to produce parts quickly is a re-imagining of a tried-and-true industrial process called near-net-shape manufacturing. However, unlike the industrial process, which happens across separate machines on a large manufacturing facility, E3D’s ASMBL takes place in a single machine that can change tools automatically. The result is that you can kick off a process and then wander back a few hours (and a few hundred tool changes) later to a finished part with machined tolerances.

What are the benefits of such an odd complimentary concoction, you might ask? Well, for one, truly sharp outer corners, something that’s been evading 3D printer enthusiasts for years, are now possible. Layer lines on vertical surfaces all but disappear, and the dimensional tolerances of holes increases as the accuracy of the process is more tightly controlled (or cleaned up!) yielding parts that are more dimensionally accurate… in theory.

But there are certainly more avenues to explore with this mixed process setup, and that’s where you come in. ASMBL is still early in development, but E3D has taken generous steps to let you build on top of their work by posting their Fusion 360 CAM plugin, the bill-of-materials and model files for their milling tool, and even the STEP files for their toolchanging motion system online. Pushing for a future where 3d printers produce the finer details might just be a matter of participating.

It’s exciting to see the community of 3D printer designers continue to rethink the capabilities of its own infrastructure when folks start pushing the bounds beyond pushing plastic. From homebrew headchanging solutions that open opportunity by lowering the price point, to optical calibration software that makes machines smarter, to breakaway Sharpie-assisted support material, there’s no shortage of new ideas to play with in an ecosystem of mixed tools and processes.

Have a look at ASMBL at 2:29 in their preview after the break.

Continue reading “E3D Teaches Additive 3D-Printers How To Subtract”

Jubilee: A Toolchanging Homage To 3D Printer Hackers Everywhere

I admit that I’m late to the 3D printing game. While I just picked up my first printer in 2018, the rest of us have been oozing out beautiful prints for over a decade. And in that time we’ve seen many people reimagine the hardware for mischief besides just printing plastic. That decade of hacks got me thinking: what if the killer-app of 3D printing isn’t the printing? What if it’s programmable motion? With that, I wondered: what if we had a machine that just offered us motion capabilities? What if extending those motion capabilities was a first class feature? What if we had a machine that was meant to be hacked?

One year later, I am thrilled to release an open-source multitool motion platform I call Jubilee. For a world that’s hungry for toolchanging 3D printers, Jubilee might be the best toolchanging 3D printer you can build yourself–with nothing more than a set of hand tools and some patience. But it doesn’t stop there. With a standardized tool pattern established by E3D and a kinematically coupled hot-swappable bed, Jubilee is rigged to be extended by anyone looking to harness its programmable motion capabilities for some ad hoc automation.

Jubilee is my homage to you, the 3D printer hacker; but it’s meant to serve the open-source community at large. Around the world, scientists, artists, and hackers alike use the precision of automated machines for their own personal exploration and expression. But the tools we use now are either expensive or cumbersome–often coupled with a hefty learning curve but no up-front promise that they’ll meet our needs. To that end, Jubilee is meant to shortcut the knowledge needed to get things moving, literally. Jubilee wants to be an API for motion.

Continue reading “Jubilee: A Toolchanging Homage To 3D Printer Hackers Everywhere”

Enclosure Needs Labels? Make The 3D Printer Do It

Tool changing on 3D printers is hot right now, and it’s going to be really interesting to see the ideas that reliable tool changing lets people try out. One such idea is having the 3D printer use a marker to label the enclosure and buttons it just 3D printed.

The 3D print shown is an enclosure for a Pocket Operator by Teenage Engineering. [Marc Schömann] made the enclosure on Blackbox, a tool-changing 3D printer that he designed. The video below shows a pen holder drawing the labels directly onto the printed object. Pocket Operators may look like calculators, but they are clever electronic musical devices capable of producing real music. (The best way to learn about what they are and what they can do is to watch a tutorial video or two.)

Continue reading “Enclosure Needs Labels? Make The 3D Printer Do It”

E3D’s Love Letter To Toolchanging 3D Printers

It’s been just over a year since E3D whetted our appetites for toolchanging printers. Now, with the impending release of their first toolchanging system, they’ve taken the best parts of their design and released them into the wild as open source. Head on over to Github for a complete solution to exchanging, locating, and parking tools on a 3D printer.

For anyone interested in fabricating the design, the files are in a format that you can almost re-zip and email to a manufacturer for quotes. As is, the repository offers STP-style CAD files, a complete set of dimensioned drawings, exploded views, and even a bill of materials. Taken as a whole, the system elegantly solves the classic problems that we’d encounter in toolchanging. Locking tools is done with a spring-based T-bar that swivels onto an wedge-shaped groove on the back of each tool plate. Locating tools is done so with a 3-groove kinematic coupling fabriacted from dowel pins. With these problems solved and presented so cleanly, these files become a path by which we can establish a common means for exchanging tools on 3D printer systems.

It’s worth asking: why develop an exceptional design and then release it for free? I’ll speculate that E3D has done an excellent job over the years establishing a well-recognized standard set of stock parts. Nearly every 3D printer builder is bound to have at least one spare V6 hotend sitting idle in a disassembled pool of former-3D-printers. With tool-changing positioned to become another step forward in the space of possibilities with 3D printing, setting the standard for tools early encourages the community to continue developing applications that lean on E3D’s ecosystem of parts.

In the last 30 years, 3D printing has transformed away from a patent-trolling duopoly to a community-friendly group of contributors that lean on each other’s shoulders with shared findings. It’s a kind gesture to the open-source community of machine builders to receive such a feature-complete mechanism. With that said, let’s start rolling the toolchanger hacks.