3D Printing Outside the Box: The Hangprinter Prints in Midair Without Any Limits

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from_jeff_parry_liten3D printers just aren’t what they used to be – and that’s a good thing. There’s nothing wrong with a traditional box-like printer that sits on the floor or on a desk, of course; those printers are the livelihood of many. But a box is, by its nature, limiting, which is why people are so frequently told to think outside of it. That’s what Torbjørn Ludvigsen did when he created the Hangprinter, and in his case, it was the cost of the box that he found limiting.

Ludvigsen was a student at Umeå University in Sweden when he began designing his own 3D printer, and like most college students, he was rather tight on money at the time. While many students save money by cutting out superfluous things like fruit and vegetables, Ludvigsen decided to cut out what he saw as the superfluous part of his printer project – at least half of the printer itself.

“The frame or box was almost half the cost of the final 3D printer, and I thought I could do without it,” he said.

He could indeed do without it, and his thriftiness resulted in the Hangprinter, a printer that, well, hangs. It’s essentially just the printer mechanism, anchored only by strings that attach to walls, ceilings, or any other surface, meaning that it can be easily set up to print anywhere – and at any size. Without the confinement of a box or even rails, the Hangprinter has an unlimited build volume, as it’s currently demonstrating at Sliperiet, Umeå Arts Campus. As part of the +Project innovation initiative, the Hangprinter is in the process of 3D printing a Tower of Babel, which has already hit the 3.5 meter mark and is still going. How tall will it get? As tall as Ludvigsen wants it to get.

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“With a 3D printer unconstrained by a set frame or box, prints can become as tall as whatever it can be suspended from, while the horizontal print area is unconstrained by a set frame,” said Linnea Therese Dimitrou, Creative Director at Sliperiet. “I find this technology very exciting as it gives us new and increased flexibility. Opportunities include printing over vast areas and printing large volumes – horizontally and vertically – without the need to build rails or frames. The setup could also be scaled up and adapted for other materials. Future versions of the device could be equipped with sensors for greater precision and outdoor use. The tower project at Sliperiet, where attachment points are moved along as we ascend, shows that this is a feasible idea.”

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[Image: Linnea Therese Dimitriou]

Ludvigsen is an expert on RepRap 3D printers; he actually did his Master’s thesis on the subject, which you can check out here if you’re interested. He created his initial prototype for the HangPrinter last year and has been improving the design since then. The Hangprinter can be built for about €200, and he has made it fully open source, with the hopes of starting a RepRap community based around further developing the printer, a significant portion of which is 3D printed itself.

“As far as I know, the HangPrinter is the only 3D printer of its kind,” he said. “There are parallel cable-driven robots and other cable-driven 3D printers, but the HangPrinter is unique in that all the parts except the energy source are mounted on the mobile device, and that it can use existing structures – in this case the walls – as a frame.”

Ludvigsen has opened a crowdfunding page on the open source software development platform Salt, and has been maintaining a RepRap blog that includes details about the Hangprinter’s continuing development. You can see the printer in action in the video below:

Discuss in the Hangprinter forum at 3DPB.com.

[Source: Umeå University / Images courtesy of Torbjørn Ludvigsen unless otherwise noted]

 

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