July 27, 2015 | By Alec

Having a desktop FDM 3D printer is a bit like having your own miniature factory, but – like having an easy-bake-oven – your manufacturing options are a bit limited. Now you might have heard of ways to add some more material options to your creations, but few will be as accessible as a recent project by Instructables user Icecats. He or she wrote a simple and accessible tutorial for 3D printing multiple materials with a single extruder 3D printer, and has illustrated it by making the miniature plunger visible above using a combination of Ninjaflex and wood filament.

As the talented maker explained, this project grew out of a love for flexible 3D printing as well as frustration about the options with single-material printing. ‘It would be safe to say that most people only have a single extruder 3D printer. This means that they (we) can only print with one material at a given time. That means that the final object will be all hard plastic... Or all flexible filament... Or 100% water-soluble plastic (keep away from water). But what if we want to create a multi-material print with our single extruder 3D printer?’ Icecats writes.

The secret to this approach is in 3D printing in multi-materials in sections. ‘The secret is to spread the different materials across different layers. Both of the models that I showed have the materials at separate heights; on separate layers. The process basically works by printing with one material to a certain height, pausing the printer, switching materials, and continuing the print,’ Icecats explains. While it is possible to change temperatures between the different materials, it is advised to find a balance in infill, layer height and retraction settings between the two materials and to use the suggested speed settings of the slowest printed filament.

While some of us like to turn the 3D printer on and take a nap, you have to stay awake for this process. Monitor the printing carefully when using this approach. When you are ready to switch materials, pause the printer through the host software. Keep in mind that the printer can take a couple of seconds to pause. Now raise the printer 10 mm on the z axis,’ Icecats explains. ‘ Place a piece of paper under the extruder to prevent leakage. If necessary, adjust the hot end temperature in the Manual Control tab to suit the second material. Switch to your second material and purge the extruder until the new material comes out pure. Remove your piece of paper and continue the print. Repeat this process as many times as necessary.’

This process is, in short, hands-on and requires some careful work to ensure you intervene on the right moment and are quick enough to prevent ugly dripping. However, as the plunger and the cylinder (a mixture of PLA and Ninjaflex) above illustrate, it is very possible. And as some material testing upon completion illustrated, the quality itself was quite good too. ‘I stressed the print until it broke- two PLA layers spit apart, which means that the NinjaFlex/PLA bond is actually stronger than the PLA/PLA bond! The bonding between the wood/NinjaFlex was similarly high strength,’ Icecats found, suggesting that this multi-material process opens up a lot of interesting options.

Now this approach will doubtlessly go wrong a couple of times and will require you to get more hands-on with your 3D printer than ever before, but the dividends are obvious. Other options worth trying are mixtures of: hard PLA, ABS and Ninjaflex, wood and ABS, and just about any combination of those materials. Icecats is already envisioning a box made from hard PLA with Ninjaflex hinges, to give you some idea of what can be done. Visit the instructables page here for more information.


Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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