New 3D Printer Technology Boosts Speed By 10x

Apart from the price, one major reason why 3D Printers have not gone mainstream is their slow speed. However, engineers at MIT seem to have come up with a solution to address this major shortcoming of the 3D Printers.

3D Printers
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3D Printers – what is limiting their speed?

The MIT team claims to have developed a laser-assisted FDM 3D printer that can print up to ten times faster than their consumer counterparts. The unusual printhead of this new 3D printer uses a laser and novel screw mechanism to boost the flow rate. The MIT team claims that the items that take an hour to print on a common desktop 3D printer are done within just a few minutes on this new 3D Printer.

Presently, the most common desktop 3D printer does not use a laser, instead, they use a heater cartridge in the printhead. MIT researchers Jamison Go and Anastasios John Hart note that they were able to boost the printing speed with the help of a laser-assisted, screw mechanism printhead. The screw mechanism helps in feeding the plastic filament at high force, while the laser quickly melts the material.

Both these mechanism are not featured in FDM printheads. The screw mechanism is an alternative to the “pinch-wheel” mechanism used in the FDM printheads, whose speed is limited owing to the risk of losing grip of the filament. The new system increases the grip and allows the printhead to process the filament faster.

As of now, it is not clear when this technology would be available on the market.

“We’re not sure of the path it will take yet. We may start our own company that will make or sell these faster desktop printers or work with an existing 3D printer company to license the technology into their current machines,” Hart told TechCrunch.

Not yet perfect

This new 3D Printer could be of great help to companies that regularly use 3D printers for prototyping. Even emergency medicine applications could benefit from this speedier printer. Researchers, however, say that they did not develop this printer with any commercial application in mind, rather their main objective was to address three common problems with FDM 3D printing: slow heat transfer, slow printhead speed and low extrusion force.

“Given our understanding of what limits those three variables, we asked how do we design a new printer ourselves that can improve all three in one system,” Hart says. “And now we’ve built it, and it works quite well.”

The MIT researchers were able to print several complex items like a miniature chair, a spiral cup, helical bevel gear and more in just five to ten minutes each. However, the technology is not perfect yet. Researchers found that due to such high force and temperature, the printed layers sometimes did not cool down (and thus remain somewhat mushy) in time for the next layer to be applied. So, the researchers have to actively cool a part along the printing process to ensure that it retains its shape. They, however, plan to address this concern in the next version.

The researchers detailed this new technology, which they referred to as FastFFF (fused filament fabrication), in a paper in the journal Additive Manufacturing.