A team of MIT engineers recently announced that they'd developed a desktop 3-D printer which could be ten times faster than models currently available. This speed increase translates to part production potentially going from hours to minutes.
The team identified three factors limiting the speed of current printers:
- How quickly it can move its printhead.
- The amount of force a printhead can apply to the material it’s pushing through the nozzle.
- The rate at which the printhead can transfer heat for melting the printing material.
According to the team, which is led by Anastasios John Hart, associate professor of mechanical engineering at MIT, the key to the printer’s speed is a compact printhead that incorporates a screw mechanism instead of the traditional pinch-wheel design. This change allows for feeding the printing material through the nozzle more quickly. A newly positioned laser can then rapidly heat and melt the material, enabling it to flow through the nozzle faster.
Quicker part production could speed time-to-market and overall product development times. And with 3D printing seeping into more markets, the applications go beyond small components and brackets to areas where time is an even greater concern – like emergency medicine.
A high-speed gantry mechanism powered by two motors and connected to a motion stage that holds the printhead was also incorporated. The H-shaped gantry was designed and programmed to move between multiple positions and planes, which allows the printhead to keep up with the extruding plastic's faster feed rates.
The only problem is that the newly melted materials are usually still hot when the next layer is being added. So, the next challenge for the team will be embedding a cooling mechanism that won’t slow the printer down or distort its shape when applying the next layer.