Nov 5, 2015 | By Kira

They say that some of mankind’s greatest discoveries happened by accident, and now the 3D printing community has their own ‘unintentional’ origin story to add the to list. Anders Olsson, a research engineer at the Uppsala University in Sweden, needed to 3D print boron carbide, however due to the ceramic material’s extremely durable properties, the stock brass nozzle on his Ultimaker 2 wore off almost immediately. Determined to keep 3D printing without having to change the entire heater block every few hours, Olsson created a custom-made threaded replacement block that would allow him to remove and switch-in a brand new nozzle within seconds.

Thinking his creation might be useful to other makers, Olsson uploaded it in an unassuming post on the Ultimaker forum. To his surprise, his heater block quickly spread around the Ultimaker community as more and more users came up with new and useful ways to make his creation work in various 3D printing applications—from allowing users to swap between smaller nozzles for more detailed prints, to using separate nozzles for different materials. They named it the Olsson Block, after its inventor, and now Ultimaker itself has recognized it as a bonafide Community Invention.

In his research on neutron particle experiments, Olsson regularly works with 3D printing to create sample mounts and holders specifically designed for his tests. Because neutrons can be dangerous to people and machinery, researchers often use boron carbide, an extremely hard, neutron-absorbing ceramic material that is used in tanks and bulletproof vests. While it has excellent safety properties, Boron Carbide is extremely difficult to work with, and nearly impossible to shape into small, complicated objects, such as the sample mounts Olsson required.

One alternative is to use toxic alternatives like Cadmium, but Olsson wasn’t satisfied with this. Instead, he created his own, self-described “abrasive” boron carbide filament. Though he had no idea whether it had ever been done before or if it would work, he tentatively ran it through his Ulitmaker 2. To his surprise (and surely everyone else’s), it worked perfectly. He could now manufacture custom sample mounts that would keep him and his fellow-researchers safe, without having to keep dismantling his 3D printer to replace the heater block.

Of course, he soon found out that the stock brass nozzle on his 3D printer wasn’t up to the job. Since it was designed specifically for use with pure plastic-based filaments, it wore out just a few hours after printing the boron carbide he had developed. This led him to create what we now know as the Olsson Block.

“I looked around for nozzles and the smallest suitable one I found was the E3D-V6,” explained Olsson. “Based on the design of the original heater block I made a slightly stretched version with a modified way of fixing the heater and the sensor.”

Though most of us won’t be coming into contact with boron carbide anytime soon, never mind trying to 3D print with it, the Olsson Block has many advantages for 3D printing projects. Because it allows users to remove and swap nozzles on the fly, they can now change nozzle diameters, choosing smaller nozzles for more detailed prints or larger nozzles for faster results. They can also use separate nozzles for different materials, choosing harder nozzles for more abrasive filaments and therefore persevering the overall shelf life of their existing nozzles. All in all, it’s a tiny tool with a big impact on increasing 3D printing efficiency.

To celebrate this innovative 3D printer add-on, Ultimaker has announced that they will be including an Olsson Block Kit for free with every Ultimaker 2 and Ultimaker 2 Extended purchase during the month of November. The Kit includes the Olsson Block, a socket, a screwdriver and four nozzles in various sizes (0.25, 0.4, 0.6 and 0.8mm).

“We work closely together with our community to innovate our products,” said Siert Wijnia, founder and CTO of Ultimaker. “Many innovations at Ultimaker are community powered, ensuring it’s not just about what we believe is important, but also what our users want to see and use.”

“I never expected the Olsson Block to become that big of a product, that wasn’t really at all in my mind,” said the inventor. “But for me it makes the 3D printer more versatile, I could do things that I couldn’t before. I hope that other people feel that way."



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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