- Developing high-speed printing systems with the same level of accuracy and reliability as traditional printers is not as easy as it seems.
BambuLab’s X1 and P1P printers have set the bar high with their high-speed 3D printers, sparking a revolution in the industry. However, developing these high-speed 3D printing systems has not been an easy feat. Traditional FDM 3D printers have a maximum printing speed of a mere 80 mm/s, leaving users with limited options. That’s why the BambuLab printers have everyone buzzing, boasting speeds of up to 500 mm/s, cutting printing time by 50% while maintaining the quality of the final product.
The question on everyone’s mind is: why aren’t established brands developing fast printers, fast?
The answer lies in the complexity of developing such machines, which requires a range of in-house capabilities that cannot be outsourced or easily obtained. While some companies have recently announced and launched their own lightning-fast 3D printers, these machines still face significant development challenges, which we will explore in-depth in this article.
As a side note, in case you are looking for a high-speed 3D printer, check out our list of the Best High-Speed 3D printers to buy in 2023.
Challenges in Developing High-Speed 3D Printers
Print Quality Challenges
As a maker, you know that faster 3D printing doesn’t always equate to better results. The challenge lies in finding a balance between speed and print quality. Unfortunately, current 3D printers have yet to achieve this equilibrium. The faster the printing speed, the higher the risk of failure. Prints mostly end up with rough surfaces, their layers shift, material get deposited only intermittently and host of other issues resulting in an overall poor quality.
But print quality cannot be sacrificed in the pursuit of speed. Customers invest in 3D printers to create high-quality products, and if a printer cannot deliver the expected results, then no amount of speed will satisfy them. Brands must continue to strive to achieve the perfect balance between speed and quality to meet the demands of their customers and still continue to build faster 3D printers.
Inertia & Vibration Challenges
When it comes to high-speed 3D printing, inertia and vibrations are two significant factors that impact the accuracy of prints. As the printhead moves at lightning speeds, stopping at the precise location to deposit material becomes a major challenge. Inertia refers to the resistance of an object to changes in its motion, and in 3D printing, it can cause the printhead to overshoot its intended position, leading to inaccuracies in the final product.
There is always inherent inertia in moving objects, and it can only be reduced, not eliminated. This is where innovation comes into play, and companies will need to focus on developing an integrated system with a perfect balance of hardware, software, and firmware that can handle fast speeds while compensating for rapid stops, direction changes, and back-and-forth movements during printing.
In addition to inertia, high speeds are often accompanied by vibrations, which can cause the printer to wobble and deposit uneven of wavy layers on the build plate, further leading to inaccuracies in the final product. While these issues are easy to identify, resolving them is much more difficult. Brands must find innovative solutions to tackle these challenges and do so quickly.
The effect of vibrations on a printer is obvious. The constant vibrations that run through the printer can be extremely damaging to its various components, including motors, extruders, screws, gears, belts, and other critical parts. As a result, these components are forced to operate as if it were the end-of-year rush every time, resulting in significant wear and tear and potentially long-term reliability issues.
Even though 3D printers are becoming more affordable, they are still expected to function for several years without fail. Unfortunately, if companies use cheap components to build their lightning-fast printers, there is a high likelihood that these printers will frequently break down, causing immense pain to customers and the brand gaining notoriety for poor quality printers.
As a result, it is critical for high-speed 3D printer manufacturers to address the issue of reliability, which is of utmost importance to consumers.
Heating of filaments in high-speed 3D printers is a complex issue that has a significant impact on print quality. The challenge here is that as the printhead attempts to extrude more melted material to keep up with the fast printing speed, the heater must work tirelessly to heat and melt the material at the optimal temperature. If the heater fails to do so, the unmelted filament can clog a nozzle, meaning a machine breakdown. If you think increasing the heater temperature to melt material faster may be a solution, then you are wrong. This solution will only create more problems. When printing finer details, the printer slows down, and during this time, the heater may overheat the material.
One possible solution to this problem is to heat the material quickly and then move it to a storage pool where it can maintain a consistent temperature while waiting to be drawn to the nozzle for printing. However, this solution too is more challenging than it seems in practice as there is huge space constraint in desktop 3D printers. Temperature control is a critical aspect of high-speed 3D printing, as it can significantly impact the final print quality. Thus, managing the temperature systems is crucial for achieving reliable and consistent results.
We all know that different materials have different melting temperatures and even a slight temperature different can affect the print quality. The ideal printing temperature varies from brand to brand, making it challenging to identify the optimal temperature. Moreover, materials exhibit different viscosities at different temperatures, making it essential to ensure uniform heating of the material.
In high-speed printing, materials need to flow rapidly from the heater to the nozzle. However, improper system configuration can result in non-uniform melting of the material, leading to clogs in the nozzle and failed prints. This is especially problematic with composites, which contain chopped fibres distributed across the filament. Clogging of the nozzle is a common issue with composites, and it can become more severe in high-speed printing.
Hence, it is critical to pay special attention to materials when printing at high speeds, as even slight variations in temperature and viscosity can cause significant issues. Careful system configuration and management can go a long way in ensuring a seamless printing process, especially when using composites.
High-speed Ecosystem Challenges
To achieve successful high-speed 3D printing, all components must operate efficiently at faster speeds. The extrusion system, responsible for pushing the material towards the hot-end and retracting filament to prevent excess material during dry runs, is particularly crucial. And while electronics can adapt to higher speeds with comparative ease, mechanical systems often lag behind due to various reasons.
Developing an entire ecosystem and supply chain around fast 3D printers is necessary for companies to ensure efficient and reliable delivery of high-quality prints. The task of building high-speed 3D printers is not an easy one, and it poses a significant challenge for companies that have relied on selling cheap clones of successful printers.
To build a reliable and high-quality 3D printer that can compete in the fast 3D printing market, a company must possess the capability to innovate in-house. As we have seen, companies building lightning-fast 3D printers face a plethora of challenges, and a lack of innovative solutions will only lead to failure. So, businesses that aspire to make a name in the high-speed 3D printing industry must be prepared to invest in research and development to overcome the numerous obstacles that come with this technology.
For long, customers have compromised on speed to get reliable and consistent quality, but it’s high time now that companies focus on delivering fast 3D printers. The time has come to make high-speed 3D printing the norm and not the anomaly.
But, achieving high-speed printing with the same level of accuracy and reliability as traditional printers is not as easy as it seems. Inertia and vibration, reliability, temperature, and material are all major factors that can affect print quality and the overall success of high-speed 3D printing. Furthermore, the entire ecosystem surrounding high-speed printing, including hardware, software, and supply chains, needs to be developed to support the technology.
Despite the challenges, the potential benefits of high-speed 3D printing are undeniable. By enabling faster production times, it can transform a wide range of industries. As the technology continues to advance, we can expect to see even more impressive 3D printers in the years to come. The key to realising this potential lies in continuing to address the challenges that come with this cutting-edge technology and pushing the boundaries of what is possible.
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