Engineers at Rutgers University have developed a technique for 3D printing large, complicated parts for a tenth of the price of existing approaches. The team published their findings in the journal Additive Manufacturing.
We have more tests to run to understand the strength and geometric potential of the parts we can make, but as long as those elements are there, we believe this could be a game changer for the industry.
Jeremy Cleeman, Study Lead Author and Graduate Student Researcher, Rutgers School of Engineering
The brand-new technique, known as Multiplexed Fused Filament Fabrication (MF3), employs a single gantry — the movable component of a 3D printer — to print a single item or many pieces concurrently.
The researchers were able to increase printing resolution and size and noticeably reduce printing time by programming their prototype to move in efficient patterns and by using many small nozzles to deposit molten material rather than a single large nozzle, as is typical in conventional printing.
Cleeman added, “MF3 will change how thermo-plastic printing is done.”
Cleeman said that his group has submitted a patent application in the U.S. for their novel technology.
The throughput-resolution tradeoff, or the speed at which 3D printers deposit material versus the quality of the end output, has been a problem for the 3D printing business.
Although larger-diameter nozzles produce more ridges and curves that must be smoothed down afterward, they are faster than smaller ones. This results in higher post-production expenditures.
Smaller nozzles, however, deposit material with a higher degree of precision, but existing techniques using standard software are too slow to be economically viable.
At the heart of MF3’s innovation is its software. A software tool known as a slicer, which translates an item into the virtual “slices” or layers, is used by engineers to configure a 3D printer.
For the gantry arm to operate as efficiently as possible, Rutgers researchers created slicer software that calculated when to switch on and off the nozzles. The researchers stated in their study that MF3’s new “toolpath strategy” can “concurrently print multiple, geometrically distinct, non-contiguous parts of varying sizes” using a single printer.
Cleeman stated that he believes this technique could offer a number of advantages. One factor that makes prospective adoption simpler is the fact that the hardware used in MF3 can be bought off the shelf and does not need to be altered.
Additionally, an MF3 printer has built-in resilience and is less prone to expensive downtime since the nozzles can be separately switched on and off, according to Cleeman. For instance, a typical printer must stop printing when a nozzle malfunctions. Another nozzle on the same arm can take over the role of a broken nozzle in MF3 printing.
Rajiv Malhotra, Alex Bogut, Brijesh Mangrolia, Adeline Ripberger, Qingze Zou, and a researcher from the University of Louisville are the co-authors of the study.
Cleeman, J., et al. (2022) Scalable, flexible and resilient parallelization of fused filament fabrication: Breaking endemic tradeoffs in material extrusion additive manufacturing. Additive Manufacturing. doi:10.1016/j.addma.2022.102926.