FDM 3D printers must contend with the trade-off between throughput and resolution. High resolution prints require a finer nozzle, through which less material can travel, increasing print times. Increase the nozzle size and you get faster prints, while sacrificing resolution. Neither sacrifice is easy to live with: Time is money, and post-production steps required to smooth rough prints also cost money.
A team of research engineers at Rutgers reckon they have solved this dilemma in a low-cost way.
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“The new approach, called Multiplexed Fused Filament Fabrication (MF3), uses a single gantry, the sliding structure on a 3D printer, to print individual or multiple parts simultaneously. By programming their prototype to move in efficient patterns, and by using a series of small nozzles – rather than a single large nozzle, as is common in conventional printing – to deposit molten material, the researchers were able to increase printing resolution and size as well as significantly decrease printing time.”
The hardware required to put together an MF3 system all exists, and can be purchased off-the-shelf. The Rutgers team’s true innovation is in the software, which slices the object-to-be-printed into layers, distributes those layers amongst the nozzles and determines the toolpath. This allows a single printer to “concurrently print multiple, geometrically distinct, non-contiguous parts of varying sizes.” Some examples:
You can read more details of the system in the team’s research paper, “Scalable, flexible and resilient parallelization of fused filament fabrication: Breaking endemic tradeoffs in material extrusion additive manufacturing.”