One of the prominent arms races in 3D printing is print speed. While certain competitors have left FFF/FDM 3D printers in the dust, new developments are giving it a massive power boost. The most recent version is MIT’s FastFFF high speed printing system. The prestigious university is presenting a new 3D printing innovation once again, this time overhauling the FFF process and breathing new life into it for higher speeds, flow and melt rates.
The FastFFF printer can allegedly take on a $100,000 commercial 3D printer in a speed test. The extrusion method is reportedly seven to 10 times faster than traditional FFF, laying down 127 cubic centimeters per hour. Even more impressive, the research team built it for $15,000. While it won’t be commercially available any time soon, the technology might just make other companies take note. The quality, while not perfect, is still impressive considering the speeds that the machine achieves.
The printer’s functionality is similar to traditional FFF but with some notable changes to the mechanisms. While traditionally printers use an idler and a drive gear with teeth that bite into the filament and push it through as the gear turns, Professors Jamison Go and John Hart decided to take another direction. FastFFF uses thread the filament and run it through a threaded nut. As a result, a motor turns the nut and the filament goes through.
Similarly, anti-twist rollers prevent the filament from twisting as the nut turns. The extrusion process is thus, not only faster but also more precise in comparison to the typical drive gear setup.
Taking FFF to the Next Level
The next issue the team wanted to tackle was that of heating the filament fast enough to melt it. They used a quartz chamber lined with gold reflectors to pre-heat the filament with a laser as it passes. The chamber provides a great environment to bounce lasers and heat the filament before it enters the actual heating block.
FastFFF also uses a servo-driven parallel gantry system that accurately moves the printhead around at high speeds. This reduces the shakes and ripples associated with the traditional process. The use of a heavy-duty frame and high power motors solve all the motion issues.
The team are looking to improve the printer in many ways before it makes a proper debut. It’s likely that one of the improvements will have to be in the realm of print quality. They are even experimenting with cellulose printing, so maybe they’ll also look into materials and versatility. As of right now, the printer presents a potential step forward for FFF/FDM as a production method.
Featured image and video courtesy of MIT.