Very often objects in 3D printing have to contain supporting structures, which are then cut off and discarded. However, a new print bed is intended to minimize or even eliminate the need for such structures, thereby reducing both waste and printing time.
Commonly used Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) printers build objects from the bottom up by extruding successive layers of molten plastic. However, if these items contain horizontally hanging sections, a plastic load-bearing column must run from the bottom of these sections to the print bed. Otherwise, the unsupported molten plastic will sink and collapse.
A person must manually remove these load-bearing structures once the printing process is complete. This takes some time, as does the initial printing of the structures. Although the cut plastic can sometimes be recycled, it is often simply thrown away.
This is where the experimental new print bed comes into play.
Designed by a team at the University of Southern California, it uses a single motor to selectively lift a series of flat steel pins. These pins replace the plastic support structures and gradually rise to support overhanging portions of the article as it is printed.
Although somewhat similar beds were previously developed, each pen required a single motor, adding power, cost, and complexity. The plan is for the new, more efficient print bed to work with customer-specific software that indicates where the pens are needed for each individual print job.
“When you 3D print complex shapes, half the time you build the parts you need and half the time you build the supports,” says Prof. Yong Chen, who leads the project with PhD student Yang Xu. “So we don’t build any supports with this system. That’s why we have a saving of around 40 percent in terms of printing time.”
An article on the research was recently published in the journal Additive Manufacturing. The prototype print bed is shown in the video below.
Source: USC Viterbi School of Engineering
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