A new design for a handy 3-D printer results in a 10 times faster printing speed. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology was able to improve the existing printer design, so that spare parts or prototypes are ready within a few minutes, instead of an hour.
The MIT researchers constructed a new nozzle for the 3D printer. This component differs from other printers in two ways: it features a screw mechanism to increase the pressure with which printing material is pushed through the nozzle, and a laser which melts the material slightly to help it flow more quickly.
These two improvements result in a small printer which can print much faster than other 'home printers'. And so the MIT researchers have tackled one of the main disadvantages of 3-D printing. Waiting an hour for your print to be completed frustrates many people, and is impractical when you need something in a hurry. Imagine a repairer printing a spare part – he does not want to spend an hour twiddling his thumbs before getting to work. Nor do customers wish to pay for his time.
However, speeding up the printing process is not simple. 3-D printers spray plastics from their printing nozzle, in a controlled movement between two cogs. If you exert too much pressure on the plastic to spray it out more quickly, the cogs lose their grip on the material and it is sprayed in an uncontrolled movement.
The researchers solved this by replacing the cogs with a screw system. The screw thread guides the printing material to the nozzle, which according to the researchers allows extra pressure to be put on the material without losing control of it. And so it can be sprayed more quickly.
The print experts also installed a laser just behind the screw system, in front of the nozzle. This ensures that the material melts faster. By switching the laser on and off at precisely the right moment, the material has the exact consistency required for it to be laid precisely and fast.
Last but not least, the researchers constructed a new motion mechanism for the printing nozzle. A hydraulic system which is faster than the standard motion methods ensures that the printing nozzle races over the object to be printed.
The speedy printer looks impressive and makes the 3-D printer more widely applicable and useful. The question now remains whether the quality is good enough, as faster printing might mean that the layers of plastic do not have enough time to harden, resulting in a messy end product.
Image: Chelsea Turner
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