In a new study, researchers from Rutgers University have described what they claim is a much faster and more accurate FFF 3D printing process. The approach is called multiplexed fused filament fabrication (MF3) and involves a single gantry and a series of small nozzles rather than the single large nozzle traditionally used in FDM. Thanks to this, the authors claim that they were able to 3D print large and complex parts at a fraction of the cost of other 3D printing methods. Moreover, the method is remarkable not only for allowing them to drastically reduce the printing time, but also to increase both the printing resolution and the size of the parts.
The MF3 printing process was published in the research paper “Scalable, Flexible, and Resilient Parallelization of Fused Filament Manufacturing: Breaking Endemic Compromises in Material Extrusion Additive Manufacturing” written by Jeremy Cleeman, Alex Bogut, Brijesh Mangrolia, Adeline Ripberger, Kunal Kate, Qingze Zou, and Rajiv Malhotra. Inside, the researchers explain that the MF3 technology works by printing with multiple FFF extruders simultaneously without controlling the movements of each extruder individually. This is made possible by “using a novel toolpath strategy that is rooted in our discovery of continuous filament retraction and advancement.”
The importance of software for the MF3 process
One of the keys to the success of this new MF3 process is thanks to the software that underpins it. The researchers developed their own slicer software to optimize the movement of the gantry arm. Additionally, the software is able to detect which nozzles should be turned on or off for optimum efficiency when printing. This also has the side benefit of potentially allowing less downtime for the printer. When a nozzle is clogged or not working, the software can turn it off and focus on other nozzles. In printers with a single nozzle, on the other hand, it would be necessary to switch off the machine.
Additionally, these advances have allowed researchers to overcome the so-called throughput-resolution trade-off, or the rate at which a 3D printer lays down material versus the resolution of the final part. So far, users have struggled because the larger diameter nozzles allow for much faster printing but lower resolution. On the other hand, smaller nozzles allow for much higher resolution and the ability to be more detailed, but the process is slower. By increasing the number of nozzles and optimizing their utilization, rather than focusing on parallelization in which printheads simultaneously print sections of a part, the MF3 process allowed researchers to circumvent this problem entirely, breaking the bitrate-resolution trade-off without having to consider existing cost/geometry limits.
Jeremy Cleeman, graduate student at Rutgers School of Engineering and lead author of the MF3 process study, concluded: “We have more testing to do to understand the strength and geometric potential of the parts we can make, but as long as those things are there, we think it could be a game-changer for the industry.”
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