3D printing process from Rutgers is faster, more precise

3D printing process from Rutgers is faster, more precise

Known as Multiplexed Fused Filament Fabrication, the process is faster and more precise than conventional methods.

August 22, 2022

Rutgers engineers created a way to 3D print large, complex parts at a fraction of the cost of current methods. They detailed their work in the journal “Additive Manufacturing.”

“We have more tests to run to understand the strength and geometric potential of the parts we can make, but as long as those elements are there, we believe this could be a game changer for the industry,” says Jeremy Cleeman, a graduate student researcher at the Rutgers School of Engineering and the lead author of the study.

The new approach, called Multiplexed Fused Filament Fabrication (MF3), uses a single gantry, the sliding structure on a 3D printer, to print individual or multiple parts simultaneously. By programming the prototype to move efficiently, and using a series of small nozzles rather than a single large nozzle, as is common in conventional printing, to deposit molten material, the researchers were able to increase printing resolution and size while decreasing time.

“MF3 will change how thermo-plastic printing is done,” says Cleeman, noting his team has applied for a U.S. patent for the technology.

The 3D-printing industry has struggled with throughput-resolution tradeoff – the speed at which 3D printers deposit material versus the resolution of the finished product. Larger-diameter nozzles are faster than smaller ones but generate more ridges and contours that must be smoothed out later, adding significant post-production costs.

By contrast, smaller nozzles deposit material with greater resolution, but current methods are too slow to be cost effective.

To program a 3D printer, engineers use a slicer, a computer code that maps an object into virtual “slices,” or layers, that will be printed. Rutgers researchers wrote slicer software that optimizes the gantry arm’s movement and determines when the nozzles should be turned on and off. MF3’s new “toolpath strategy” makes it possible to “concurrently print multiple, geometrically distinct, non-contiguous parts of varying sizes” using a single printer according to the study.

Cleeman says he sees numerous benefits to this technology.

First, the hardware used in MF3 can be purchased off the shelf and doesn’t need to be customized, making potential adoption easier.

Additionally, because nozzles can be turned independently, an MF3 printer is less prone to downtime. For instance, when a nozzle fails in a conventional printer, the printing process must be halted. In MF3 printing, the work of a malfunctioning nozzle can be assumed by another nozzle on the same arm.

As 3D printing increases in popularity, resolving the throughput-resolution trade-off is essential, says Cleeman, and adding that MF3 is a contribution.