What! 6-axis 3D printing goes beyond layers. Incredible.

At the the University of Texas at Austin the ‘International Solid Freeform Fabrication Symposium; An Additive Manufacturing Conference’ was recently held. There were a lot of presentations, on everything from SLA porosity to updates on NAMII and improving tensile properties of FDM prints. One of the presentations was titled Development of a Low-Cost Parallel Kinematic Machine for Multi-Direction Additive Manufacturing. This is what it was about:

Xuan Song, Yayue Pan, and Yong Chen of University of Southern California put that together. By doubling the degrees of freedom of typical 3D printers the LCPKM (Low-Cost Parallel Kinematic Machine) can accurately print at dynamic angles. With 3-axis printing all objects are built through stacking flat, horizontal layers. The LCPKM can print vertically curved and diagonal lines, which means it can also print on uneven surfaces like balls and bottles. Printed objects can also have their outside surfaces printed onto them after the internal structure is printed.

Here’s a snippet from the description of the presentation:

“Most additive manufacturing processes are layer-based with only three-dimensional motions in the X, Y and Z axes. However, there are drawbacks associated with such limited motions, e.g. non-conformal material properties, stair-stepping effect, and limitations on building around inserts.”

By mixing different directions of deposition, more strength can be added to functional parts. Vertical printing allows objects to have smooth surfaces that have none of the stair stepping that’s caused by stacking layers; this also increases strength. 6-axis motion is also useful with CNC machining. It may look a bit overly complex, but it’s really just a more elegant delta bot, as can be seen here:

If a scanning system was incorporated into the design, an object could be placed on the build platform, the machine would scan it, and then designs could be printed right onto the object, either as temporary or permanent additions. Hats could be added to figurines, names to keepsake boxes and coin banks, and the applications with alternative materials are endless. Consider silicone/glue; complex gaskets and irregular surfaces could be precisely lined with inhuman speeds. And then there’s clay and concrete; a scaled up LCPKM could create even more intricate structures. This is an exciting development.