MIT have just shown off their new FDM/FFF printer that they claim is 10 times faster than existing machines. Achieving higher speeds on FDM/FFF has always been an issue of balancing flow rates and precise material heating. Therefore, the researchers utilised a heating laser that switches on and off to control its heat levels. It also features a screw mechanism printhead to aid the flow of materials.
The original aim of the research was to overcome the 3 common problems associated with FDM/FFF slow printhead speed, low extrusion force and slow heat transfer. To do this they added a laser and replaced the standard pinch-wheel mechanism in most FDM/FFF printers.
MIT researchers Jamison Go and Anastasios John Hart are leading the project. “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,” stated John Hart. “And now we’ve built it, and it works quite well.”
Laser-based Extrusion Technology
The laser and the screw mechanism are the two main additions this machine makes. Aside from the speed benefit, this new screw mechanis also varies in how the material is processed. It processes a specially developed textured filament, which increases grip and allows the printhead to feed the filament through at much higher speeds, while the laser melts down the filament before it passes through the nozzle.
As the researchers are fully willing to acknowledge, the machine is not quite perfect. It still has cooling problems between successive layers. This led to them having to actively cool the prints as they went along. They plan to address this issue in the next iteration.
The implications of the research are interesting. Perhaps many companies will be looking to speed up their FDM/FFF machines with lasers in the near future. Another possibility is that users may undertake upgrades to add the laser mechanism into their own home devices. While the technology is still growing, it does give a vision of what can be done to produce faster machines.