A moving 3D printing platform to reduce waste and save time

Above: 3D printing of a Turner model to test the moving build platform / Image source: Professor Yong Chen

Researchers at USC Viterbi School of Engineering, located at the University of Southern California in the United States developed A unique low cost, dynamically controlled, moving 3D printing platform to reduce the waste that arises from it Support structures and save printing time.

This project is led by Yong Chen, Professor of Industrial and Systems Engineering, and Ph.D. Student Yang Xu who has been released in Science Direct.

Manufacturing platforms for traditional 3D printing

Movable 3D printing build platformAbove: Dominant FDM Build Platform / Image Source: Makers Muse

3D printing is a layered building process in which each layer serves as the basis for the next layer. The first layer is placed on top of the 3D printing build platform, the second layer on top of the first layer, and so on until the entire object is created.

For complex or non-conventional shapes, some parts of the design may not be supported by the previous layer and in such situations the Slicing software must compensate by creating additional structure to support the layer that will be printed later in the print. This support structure is not required for the total pressure, but only serves as a catalyst for completing the main model. Without the support structure, this model will not print successfully.

New build platform

To avoid the use of 3D printed support structures, Professor Chen and his team developed a novel prototype that uses a programmable, dynamically controlled 3D printing build platform made of movable metal pins to replace the 3D printed supports in place of a stationary platform . The pens rise as the printer gradually builds up the product.

Reusable support for 3D printers
Above: Reusable 3D printer / video support Source: USC Viterbi / YouTube

Chen: “The tests of the new prototype have shown that around 35% of the materials used to print objects are saved. I work with biomedical doctors who do 3D printing using biomaterials to build tissues or organs. Much of the material used is very expensive – they’re small bottles that cost anywhere from $ 500 to $ 1000 each. For standard FDM printers, the cost of materials is around $ 50 per kilogram, but bioprinting is closer to $ 50 per gram, so if we can save 30% of the material that would have been used to print these carriers, it is a huge cost saving for 3D printing for biomedical purposes. “

In addition to the environmental and cost implications of wasted materials, the prevalent 3D printed support structures also lead to a waste of time.

Chen continued, “When you 3D print complex shapes, half the time you build the parts you need and half the time you build the supports. So with this system we don’t build any supports. In terms of printing time, we therefore have a saving of approx. 40%. “

Movable 3D printing build platformAbove: Professor Yong Chen / Photo credit: Jeffrey Fiterman

Chen explained that similar prototypes developed in the past relied on individual motors to lift each of the mechanical supports, resulting in very energy-intensive products that were also much more expensive to purchase and therefore not cost-effective for 3D printers.

“So if you had 100 moving pins and the cost of each motor was about $ 10, that would be $ 1,000, in addition to 25 control boards to control 100 different motors. The whole thing would cost well over $ 10,000. “

The research team’s new prototype works by running each of its props from a single motor that moves a platform. The platform lifts groups of metal pins at the same time, making it a cost-effective solution. Based on the product design, the program’s software would tell the user where to insert a series of metal tubes into the base of the platform. The location of these tubes would then determine which pegs would be raised to defined heights to best support the 3D printed product while creating the least amount of waste on 3D printed substrates. At the end of the process, the pins can be easily removed without damaging the product.

Chen said the system could also be easily adapted for large-scale manufacturing, such as in the automotive, aerospace and yachting industries.

Chen added, “People already build FDM printers for large auto and ship bodies, and for consumer products like furniture. As you can imagine, their construction times are very long – we’re talking about a full day. So if you can save half of that, your manufacturing time could cut to half a day. Using our approach could bring many benefits to this type of 3D printing. “

Chen announced that the team has also applied for a patent for the new technology. The study was jointly authored by Ziqi Wang, previously a visiting student at USC in the Faculty of Computer and Communication Sciences at EPFL Switzerland, and Siyu Gong from USC Viterbi.

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