Recent developments in the Smart and Sustainable Automation Research Lab (S2A Lab) at the University of Michigan College of Engineering might make it easier for 3D printing enthusiasts to answer one of the most commonly asked questions in the industry – “How long does it take to 3D print something?” There’s currently not a good short answer for this question other than, “It depends.”
A main factor for the slow pace of lightweight desktop 3D printers is due to the vibrations caused from the many parts moving throughout. As the print head moves faster, more vibrations are created and ultimately a lower-resolution part is the result. The S2A Lab team developed a filtered b-spline (FBS) algorithm to address the issue of speed.
Chinedum Okwudire, an associate professor of mechanical engineering who directs the University of Michigan’s Smart and Sustainable Automation Research Lab, stated:
“Armed with knowledge of the printer’s dynamic behavior, the program anticipates when the printer may vibrate excessively and adjusts its motions accordingly.”
In order to achieve high-quality prints, a 3D printer needs to operate at a speed where vibrations are minimized. Often times this results in the user going through a series of test prints to find the ideal speed. The slow pace of 3D printers is a main reason why some businesses have avoided adopting of the technology in their operations.
Simon Shen, CEO of XYZPrinting, was cited by Okwudire about how print speed was limiting the growth of the industry:
To explain how the algorithm works in layman’s terms, Okwudire compares it to someone attempting to deliver a speech to a large audience. Without a megaphone, the speaker would have to shout in order to be heard from those sitting in the farthest rows. If the speaker was handed a megaphone and continued to shout through it, their voice would be too loud and sound distorted to the audience. However, if the speaker talked through the megaphone with a normal volume, it would resonate clearly throughout the room.
Last year, Shen told TechCrunch, “We’re just waiting for the next evolution of the technology, if they can do it much faster, more precise and easier, that will bring more people to 3-D printers. Not waiting for four to six hours for a print, but 40 to 60 minutes.”
“Our software is like that person who realizes their voice is going to be overly amplified. It acts preemptively because it knows [what] the behavior of the printer is going to be ahead of time,” Okwudire said.
“Eventually, one of the places we would want to see the algorithm applied is in the firmware – the software that runs on the printer itself. That way, it will be integrated with the printers, regardless of the size.”
The software will likely be tested out on lightweight desktop 3D printers at first, but Okwudire says the software can be integrated into industrial-grade printers that also experience limited speeds due to vibrations. The S2A Lab compared prints of the Capitol building on a HICTOP Prusa i3 and produced comparison prints on a LulzBot TAZ 6.
The lab’s findings were recently published by the journal Mechatronics in a paper titled, “A limited-preview filtered B-spline approach to tracking control – With application to vibration-induced error compensation of a 3D printer,” available here. The research was led by PhD candidates Deokkyun Yoon and Molong Duan.
This is potentially a major breakthrough in the 3D printing industry as it would make printing parts for final production more feasible on a large scale. By improving the speed and output quality of desktop 3D printers, it makes them more attractive to users who require high-resolution parts, but couldn’t afford to spend thousands of dollars on industrial printers.
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