AMS Spring 2023

Start Non-Planar 3D Printing Today on your Ender 3 with nonplanar.xyz

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One of the most exciting developments in 3D printing is non-planar 3D printing for FDM. Fused Deposition Modeling (FFF, Material Extrusion) is the most popular, affordable and widespread 3D printing technology. FDM can print many different materials and has a large number of possible applications. There are some limits to FDM however. Z-axis strength is not optimal and the esthetics of parts are not really great. Regular FDM printers print using a cartesian system that moves upward layer by layer. This works well enough if you consider a printer a box that makes things. But, what if you wanted to make things that were more suited to the real world? Parts such as braces, bioprints, orthotics, insoles, helmets and the like all have to fit humans and humans are rather curvy with many organic round parts. Organic designs generally are a challenge to printers as is reducing stepped surfaces and increasing in layer and intralayer adhesion. What if we could make stronger FDM parts that simultaneously looked better? Non-planar FDM may just do all of that for us. Work on slicing nonplanar surfaces for FDM and testing parts is very promising already.

An Airfoil made by Daniel Ahrens and Co. shows us some of the benefits of non-planar 3D printing.

Additional work on non-planar 3D printing shows us that it may be useful for transparent displays and optics, can be done using existing robot arms, and thanks to Grasshopper and a Slic3r plugin there is even software for it. The combination of non-planar printing with microstructures, gradients, multiple materials and lattices could make FDM an even more versatile technology.

Now nonplanar.xyz hopes to make non-planar 3D printing much more widespread. The company was started by Gabriel Boutin who worked on the Kupol helmet we’ve written about before. Getting your current FDM printer to print non-planar is actually quite complex as you can see from this awesome video below. It also illustrates the results one can get.

At nonplanar.xyz they want to sell us the elongated nozzles we would need, teach us how to go non-planar and give us sample G-Code to get us started. I’m incredibly excited about non-planar FDM and hope that the firm spreads non-planar far and wide. You can buy a nozzle starting from $8.49. An introductory course into path design and path programming is $30. You can also buy Gcode for $10 or $2. The Gcode doesn’t really seem like an amazing deal to me but the course and nozzles seem like a steal given what non-planar can do to expand your 3D printing arsenal.
We asked Boutin why he and the Kupol team got into non-planar printing.  He responded that:
“I have been looking for the magic bullet among all the additive manufacturing technologies for the last few years. Like most of us, I was captivated by the brand new and expensive machines. They are capable of amazing results but are they value creation tools?Being part of the NFL helmet challenge to create the most protective helmet ever created, I have screened all the possibilities for manufacturing unique lattices I have created for Kupol Inc.”

nonplanar.xyz’s kit on an Ender 3

It took him a while to get the hang of it.
“I have always disregarded FDM, thinking it was not a real manufacturing process. I was completely wrong. The solution was to push the boundaries of FDM to use its full potential, meaning nonplanar paths. It was a scary thing at first because I did not have any knowledge of programming. Nevertheless, I have investigated Rhino Grasshopper to see if a guy like me could succeed in printing a nonplanar shape. And I just did it.”
Also, the way that Gabriel looks at non-planar is squarely from the view of a designer:
“Nonplanar printing is in fact a workflow that you design or adaptt to the product you want to create. There will never be a single solution for everything because it requires intent. If you want to create an insole for example, you need to define what you want the product to look like and how to achieve this.  Once you have invested time into your ”design”, you can use it to print similar shapes and therefore you open the door to custom products at scale.”
I love that he sees it as a workflow and indeed looking at it in this manner would make it seem as an option and “path” to certain products. I feel that this is a far more realistic and healthier approach than to look at everything as a “technology” to replace all others. I was very surprised that Gabriel opted for a low cost 3D printer to introduce the technology with.

I have selected the Ender3 for a simple reason, it was dirt cheap and easy to modify. There are other DIY printers on the market that could be very good choices too. I expect nonplanar.xyz to offer compatible nozzles for those other choices in the very near future.

It is now time to leave the surface!
You can order nozzles now and sign up for the tutorial at their site.

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