Aug. 21, 2014

Three Dimensional Printing (3DP) technology (powder bed and inkjet 3d printing) was first developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1993. Unlike the FDM printers (MakerBot and RepRap) that build objects by melting plastic, 3DP technology works just like a desktop printer. The process is similar to the Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) process, but instead of using a laser to sinter the material, an ink-jet printing head deposits a liquid binder, onto a layer of gypsum powder. Then a thin layer of powder is spread across the surface and the process repeats with each layer adhering to the last.

Dutch engineer Yvo de Haas has recently come up with Plan B, an open source, powder-based 3D printer using standard 3D printed parts and electronics, off the shelf inkjet components, 3D printed parts and a sturdy laser cut (or water cut) aluminium frame. Plan B currently prints in special 3DP printing gypsum with matched binder. After printing, the printer uses heat to strengthen the part. Then the model needs to be carefully removed and 'depowdered' and dipped in wax, epoxy, or CA glue that infiltrates the part and solidifies it. This process is just like the very expensive powder printers such as ZCorp 3D printers.



22-year-old de Haas has a bachelor degree in mechanical engineering and self taught electronics skills. He is also the developer of 3D-printable GLaDOS lamp, a fully 3D printable Pip-Boy 3000 and moving and tracking Portal Turret. Two years ago de Haas made a Focus 3D printer as an experiment platform but it was 'painfully slow and unreliable', he said. About a year ago he started Plan B power printer project based on the construction of his Focus 3D printer. "I am curious about how difficult it could be." de Haas said.

Currently the Plan B is only capable of printing a single color. Full color printing will be possible with a full color head, but that will be part of his future research project. But still, the machine's mechanical stats are solid:

It has a step accuracy of up to 0.05mm and has a printing accuracy of 96DPI (coming from it's HP C6602 inkjet cartridge). The cartridge can be refilled with custom binders using a syringe. The inkjet technology on Plan B is based on the inkshield. It has a printing envelope of 150mmx150mmx100mm and has a layer thickness of 0.15mm to 0.2mm. It's current speed is 60mm/s, but with better firmware this speed can easily be doubled, de Haas said.

The Plan B has a resolution of 96DPI (roughly 0.26mm per dot) and costs around €1000,- to make. It is currently only capable of 3D printing in gypsum that is used by Zcorp printers without colors. "Experiments are on the way to expand the list of materials with ceramics and graphite powders." notes de Haas. "Also an effort is going to be made to make the current material more open source friendly. there aren't very many companies selling this powder, and even less selling it for decent prices."

For de Haas the hardest thing about this project is that there are actually very few open source developments in powder printing, especially with inkjet, de Haas told us. Back in 2012, the University of Twente, the Netherlands showcased their Pwdr Model 0.1 to the open source community, which is also an open source powder-based rapid prototyping machine. But this school project was still in an early stage of development and has never been finished.

There are a lot of advantages to 3DP technology versus the melted plastic method of FDM printing. It prints objects in higher accuracy due to finer and more controllable nozzles. Because each build is self-supporting, you can print more complex objects that couldn't be made with FDM printer. 3DP also offers more unique materials options: it is possible for 3DP powder printer to make objects out of powdered sugar, ceramic, stainless steel, graphite etc.

After a year of developing, Plan B is working stable and capable of printing faster, more reliable and more accurate parts than its predecessor Focus. De Haas has also planed some improvement for the Plan B in the future, such as:

  • Dual feed hopper design and driven spreader increase the speed of the new layer process significantly;
  • The motors are removed from the moving parts, giving the gantry a higher speed and accuracy;
  • The aluminum frame is stiffer, thinner and makes the frame heatable (all fragile parts are thermally insulated from the frame);
  • Better piston guidance gives the Z-axis more accuracy and reliability;
  • The frame can be manufactured on a lasercutter or a flowjet.

"But in the long run, it really depends on the feedback here whether I continue with Plan B as a 3DP printer, convert it to an SHS printer or simply start with something else." de Haas said. "I myself love the technique, but if no one else does, I think I can better spend my time on other projects."

de Haas has released the project as open source, so you can build your own powder printer from the files he uploaded on the site, and follow the full instruction here. Plan B has a lot of parts that are also used in ordinary 3D printers that you can easily source in the local hardware store. Quite a few parts can be printed using your own 3D printer, you can find the files here.

Check out the video of plan B printing after the break.


Specs of Plan B 3D printer:

  • Build box dimensions: 150mmx150mmx100mm (l x w x h)
  • Layer thickness: 0.1mm to 0.25mm
  • Inkjet resolution: 96DPI (HP C6602)
  • Build material: Currently only Zcorp Gypsum and binder without color (this list will expand)
  • Step accuracy (X/Y): 0.05mm
  • Speed: 60mm/s (higher with future firmware)
  • Printing speed: Up to 30mm per hour (higher with future firmware)
  • Power consumption: Up to 160W (around 90W average)

Construction

  • Printer dimensions: 550mmx350mmx450mm (l x w x h)
  • Printer weight: 16kg
  • Frame material: Aluminum and 3D printed plastic
  • Linear guides: LM8UU on 8mm steel rods
  • Number of motors: 6x NEMA17 stepper motors
  • Features: LCD screen, Keypad with rotary encoder, SD card reader

 

Thanks to Marthijn for the tip!


Posted in 3D Printers

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Raj wrote at 8/25/2014 2:56:32 AM:

hi, really interesting work ,,which gives good idea to us,,,,but still we are interested for creating part bed for our selecetive laser sintering process, could u please suggest us this design for making part bed ,,,

Marthijn wrote at 8/22/2014 11:59:55 AM:

Good read, thanks for posting! And a very interesting project.

Felix wrote at 8/21/2014 11:30:29 PM:

This is not the only one of its kind - http://pwdr.github.io is a very similar project

Ben wrote at 8/21/2014 7:07:58 PM:

fantastic first steps! here's hoping for a powdered sugar food safe version!

Ben wrote at 8/21/2014 6:36:32 PM:

I backed a Kickstarter project called Inkshield a few years ago for Arduino control of inkjet cartridges. It could be helpful for building this kind of printer, including the control of multiple print heads. http://nicholasclewis.com/projects/inkshield/



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