Sometimes a company’s best innovations come from its consumers, and Dutch company Ultimaker has research engineer Anders Olsson to thank for its latest product. He and his team at Sweden’s Uppsala University research and experiment on neutron particles for various purposes, including water purification. Because neutrons are harmful to people and damaging to equipment, neutron-absorbing boron carbide is commonly used as a protective shield for workers, equipment and samples in the lab. Unfortunately, because of its hardness, it is extremely difficult to craft small or complicated objects with; therefore, researchers often have to use more toxic materials such as cadmium to put around small samples.
The lab had been using 3D printing in their lab to manufacture sample holders and other complicated tools that would be difficult to create using other manufacturing processes, so Olsson thought, why not try incorporating boron carbide into 3D printing? He managed to create pellets of boron carbide mixed with plastic, which he then extruded through a filastruder to make boron carbide filament. He then fed the new filament into his Ultimaker 2, unsure of what would happen.
“It printed well, it printed really nice,” Olsson said. “And I got this…small, tiny neat piece made out of boron carbide that no one could make before.”
Unfortunately, the hardness of the boron completely wore away the printer’s brass nozzle within a few hours. Because changing a nozzle requires replacing the entire heating block, more innovation was needed. Luckily, the enterprising Olsson had a solution: a threaded heating block that would allow for the old nozzle to be removed and a new one to be screwed in within seconds. He posted the details of his invention to the Ultimaker forum, and the community loved it, dubbing it the “Olsson Block.” The company loved it, too–enough to adopt it.
“We work closely together with our community to innovate our products,” says Siert Wijnia, founder and CTO of Ultimaker. “Many innovations at Ultimaker are community powered, ensuring it’s not just about what we believe is important, but also what our users want to see and use.”
Ultimaker has announced that they will include a free Olsson Block with every purchase of an Ultimaker 2 or Ultimaker 2 Extended printer during the month of November. Included in the kit, along with the block, are a socket, a screwdriver, and four nozzles in the following sizes: 0.25, 0.4, 0.6 and 0.8mm, which should be appealing to makers who want to switch quickly between materials or more easily fine-tune their print jobs. For a small, smooth, and highly detailed print, the company recommends, the 0.25 nozzle should be used, while if you’re looking for an especially fast print job, try the 0.8mm nozzle.
“I never expected this Olsson Block to become that big product,” said Olsson. “That wasn’t really at all in my mind. But for me it makes the printer more versatile; I can do things that I couldn’t do before. I hope that other people feel that way.”
Discuss this story in the Olsson Block forum thread on 3DPB.com.
Check out the Olsson Block in action below: