New 3D printer prints 10 times faster than ordinary desktop printer

Thought 3D printing was a fast way to make objects? Soon, you’ll be able to do it even faster! MIT engineers developed a new desktop 3D printer that performs up to 10 times faster than existing commercial counterparts.

Most common 3D printers are able to print a few Lego sized bricks per hour, or about 20 cubic centimetres (1.2 cubic inch) per hour, to be more exact. The new design, however, can print similarly sized objects in just a few minutes.

Common 3D printers have 3 factors that limit their speed: how fast a printer can move its printhead, how much force a printhead can apply to a material to push it through the nozzle, and how quickly the printhead can transfer heat to melt a material and make it flow.

In most 3D printers, two small wheels within the printhead rotate to push the filament forward. This process is hard to speed up, as at a certain point, the wheels would lose their grip on the material.

The key to the new design lies in the printer’s compact printhead. This head incorporates two speed-enhancing components: a screw mechanism that feeds polymer material through a nozzle at high force, and a laser that rapidly heats and melts the filament, so that it flows faster through the nozzle.

The team printed various small objects, such as eyewear frames, a bevel gear, and a miniature replica of the MIT dome. Each object took only a few minutes to print.

There is one problem: when you finish one layer and go back to begin the next layer, the previous layer is still a little too hot. Therefore, the object has to be cooled actively while the printer prints, to retain its shape.

That’s a design challenge that the researchers are currently taking on, combined with the mathematics by which the path of the printhead can be optimised. So for now, you still have to wait patiently for your 3D printed objects.

Photos: MIT / Chelsea Turner (using images provided by the researchers)