Most consumers do not own a 3D printer, though perhaps one day that will change. For now, 3D printing at home remains a niche obsession, however the barriers of entry have started to come down with some models focusing on ease-of-use and others aiming for relatively low price points. Some combine both. One thing that probably has to change, however, is the speed at which 3D printers operate. Well, a team of engineers at MIT are on it, with a 3D printer that can print in minutes what would take most 3D printers hours.
The system they developed is based on fused deposition modeling (FDM), which is an additive manufacturing (AM) technology commonly found in the majority of 3D printers out there today. It builds 3D objects by layering melted plastic into a specific structure. It's usually not a very fast process, though MIT made some changes to the print head to dramatically speed things up. One of those changes is a screw mechanism that more quickly feeds filaments through, made possible by having a tighter grip on the plastic.
"This system, which we call ‘FastFFF’, is motivated by our recent analysis of the rate-limiting mechanisms to conventional fused filament fabrication (FFF) technology. The FastFFF system mutually overcomes these limits, using a nut-feed extruder, laser-heated polymer liquefier, and servo-driven parallel gantry system to achieve high extrusion force, rapid filament heating, and fast gantry motion, respectively. The extrusion and heating mechanisms are contained in a compact printhead that receives a threaded filament and augments conduction heat transfer with a fiber-coupled diode laser," the researchers explain.
A prototype they built to show off the technology is able to achieve a volumetric build rate of 127 cm3/hr, which is about seven times faster than commercial desktop FFF systems at comparable resolutions. The maximum extrusion rate o the printhead is about 14 times faster.
"High-speed desktop AM raises the possibility of new use cases and business models for AM, where handheld parts are built in minutes rather than hours. Adaptation of this technology to print high-temperature thermoplastics and composite materials, which require high extrusion forces, is also of interest," the researchers added.
As to whether or not this will ever make it to market, Associate Professor John Hard told TechCrunch he would be thrilled if it did, but he and his team are not sure of the path they will take. They may start their own company, or they may decide to license out the technology to existing 3D printer companies.
Top/Thumbnail Image Source: YouTube via Mechanosynthesis Group, MIT