Image Source: MIT Team

Professor Jamison Go and Professor John Hart of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Mechanosynthesis Group have developed new hardware that enables what they call FastFFF (fast fused filament fabrication) which results in faster 3D printing. The speeds are ten times faster than what comparable 3D printers can achieve. They faced a few challenges in the process which they were able to innovatively work their way around.

The new printer smoked the competition in speed tests, including a $100,000 commercial 3D printer. The 3D printer built by the research team cost $15,000 so this isn’t likely to hit the market any time soon. This extrusion method is seven to 10 times faster, producing up to 127 cubic centimetres per hour. The quality of the prints could be better, likely improved by tuning the retraction and pathing settings, but the quality is still very good considering the speed at which they were 3D printed.

There are a few challenges faced when 3D printing materials with speed despite their impeccable accuracy and quality. Traditional printers can print one part at a time or even one layer at a time. There are several speed-limiting factors with the major four being the speed at which the filament can be pushed through the nozzle, the rate of heat applied to the filament to melt it, the speed of the print head and the rate at which the filament cools.

They used the traditional approach to solve the solidifying problem by blasting the filament structure with air. However, the rest of the three required much more innovation than that. They replaced the traditional drive gear in 3D printers with a nut which has the filament threaded around it. This took care of the sensitivity needed by the drive gear to push the filament out without destroying it. This method is also more precise than a Drive Gear.

The issue of heating the filament fast enough was addressed using lasers. A quartz chamber is lined with gold reflectors, and as the filament goes through the chamber a laser is bounced around inside and pre-heats the filament before it goes through a traditional heating block. This cuts down the heating time by a large factor and essentially enables the material to be pushed through earlier, in turn, shortening the printing time.

The final problem of the speed of the printhead around the work area was solved by less innovative means, but rather by simple physics. Most of the times, the printhead receives a lot of backlash as a result of shaky structures. The professors took care of the problem simply by using a heavier frame structure and more powerful monitors than others.

Even though this technology is not going to be out in the market soon, it can sure act as a model which would enable faster 3D printing technologies in the near future. In a way, this would enable further advancements in the field of 3D printing and printing materials even if this specific product does not see the light of day.

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