While metal 3D printing was all the rage at RAPID + TCT this week, there were some FDM printers on the exhibit floor that showed that plastic extrusion is still a viable alternative to more expensive powder and resin-based rapid prototyping systems. I visited with Titan Robotics to see their approach to large-format 3D printing. I was impressed by the unique solutions they came up with for printing large plastic objects quickly.

Titan Robotics builds large-format, open framed 3D printers out of welded American-made steel that’s precision milled on their in-house CNC mill. All their printers are built around 16mm lead ground recirculating ball screws,15mm profiled linear rails and Yaskawa closed loop AC servo motors for increased speed and repeatability. Their flagship model, The Atlas, is available with an optional heated bed and looks like a desktop RepRap 3D printer on steroids, with build volumes ranging from 30″ x 30″ x 45″ up to 42″ x 42″ x 48″.

The Atlas at Titan’s booth featured their high flow-rate, large aperture pellet extruder, which was developed through their longstanding partnership with filament manufacturer Push Plastic. The father-son duo at Push Plastic leveraged their combined 35 years in thermoplastics and 10 years of 3D printing experience to craft the new pellet extrusion system.

The pellet extruder saves both time and money, especially important when printing large items. It also opens up a wide range of materials available to users including: PLA, ABS, CF ABS, Glass bead ABS, PVC, HDPE, Glass filled polycarbonate, PC+PBT, Polypropylene, HIPS, PETG, CF PETG, Nylon, CF Nylon, TPU and TPE. Titan states that their system is compatible with 100s of injection molding plastics.

“Pellet extrusion systems are an exciting breakthrough in large scale 3D printing,” said Nick Booth, Owner of Push Plastic. “Because we have extensive knowledge in large-scale extrusion systems, it was a logical step for us to use our expertise to advance additive manufacturing technology.”

Titan Robotics has successfully test printed several advanced, pelletized-form materials that have previously not been successful in traditional filament 3D printing, including polypropylene, glass-filled polycarbonate, polyethylene and recent successful field tests with the Chemson Group’s new AM/3DP specific PVC, 3DVinyl™. With the average pellet cost between $1.50 – $6/lb vs. $10 – $20/lb for comparable filament, the cost savings could be enormous for a very large print. The pellet extruder can print 1 – 5 lbs. of material per hour and with nozzle sizes ranging from 0.7mm – 3mm, it can print large, strong parts.

“Being able to 3D print with PVC in both pellet and filament form opens up 3D printing to many industries that require a product that can withstand outdoor, harsh environments such as the oil and gas fields, agriculture and architecture,” says Titan Robotics Founder and CEO, Clay Guillory, “When you’re trying to create something, the last thing you want to worry about is material cost. Now I just hit print and if I don’t like it I just print it again. It’s that fast and that affordable.”

Tittan Robotics believes that the faster print times, lower costs, and ability to print more advanced materials will be ideal for a greater number of industrial and professional uses in various industries, including aerospace, prostheses, construction, metal casting, and the oil and gas industry.

Interestingly, Titan also produces The Cronus 3D printer, which takes a very different approach to large-format FDM printing. The multi-gantry Cronus uses multiple printheads that work in chorus to create large, high-resolution prints quickly. Powered by Autodesk Netfabb’s collaborative multi-head 3D printing technology, The Cronus’ 5 printheads work cooperatively on different sections of a single print surface to fabricate large complex parts at advanced industrial speeds. The Cronus allows for the fabrication of large parts without sacrificing detail or time. Parts can be created in a matter of hours, as opposed to days.

“It’s really exciting to upend what has been traditionally been regarded as a desktop prototyping technology and show that it’s a powerful way to make large parts – such as molds and fixtures – out of high performance materials,” said Andreas Bastian, Principal Research Scientist at Autodesk. “Machines running collaborative multi-head 3D printing technology require a higher level of precision than is typical of large format deposition systems. This is why we’re excited to use the Cronus as an ongoing development platform.”

The Cronus is built with many of the same parts as The Atlas and has a standard total build volume of 77″ x 30″ x 20″, but those dimensions are customizable. Nozzle sizes range from 0.4mm – 1.2mm, and layer heights of 100 – 800 microns. The unit I saw at the 3D Playground on the RAPID exhibit floor had the standard filament extruders, but it can be customized with a pellet extrusion system.

“At Titan Robotics, we’re always up for a challenge. That’s why we took on this project and built the Cronus, to take 3D printing to the next level and make large scale, high detail parts a reality by reducing the time it takes to make them,” stated Guillory.

Heated enclosures are also available as options on The Atlas and The Cronus. They come with a precision machined, heated aluminum build plate that is covered with either a polycarbonate or borosilicate glass. Auto-leveling is standard and they printers use open market components and software.

It’s really exciting to see how traditional FDM printing is migrating from the desktop market to large-scale, professional applications. I was certainly impressed by the ingenuity of Titan Robotics’ new 3D printer and pellet extrusion technology. It was also interesting to see how 3D printer companies, filament producers and software developers are collaborating to create unique 3D printing technology to create larger parts more affordably and faster.  This trend was very obvious at the exhibit hall and I’ll be reporting on other such developments from RAPID.

Below are videos of the Cronus in action at RAPID:

[Images: Titan Robotics, Michael A. Parker]

 

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