Researchers at USC’s Viterbi school of Engineering have revealed a revolutionary innovation in FDM 3D printing that makes supports nearly obsolete. Professor Yong Chen and his team have created a low cost reusable support method that uses a “dynamic 3d printing platform” which greatly reduces the amount of support material needed to create complex FDM parts. The work was recently published in the additive manufacturing journal which is linked in the description down below if you want to check it out for yourself.

Instead of a completely static build plate, this concept utilizes a programmable build plate that uses movable metal pins to greatly reduce the number of supports needed. The current prototype has shown it can save around 35% in material in a print. Now you might be thinking, “This seems like overkill when normal filaments cost around $25 a kilogram” and you’d be right. Where this printer really comes into play is in specialty sectors of FDM where materials can reach sky high prices.

“I work with biomedical doctors who 3D print using biomaterials to build tissue or organs,” Chen said. “Many of the materials they use are very expensive­–we’re talking small bottles that cost between $500 to $1000 each.”

“For standard extrusion printers, the materials cost is around $50 per kilogram, but for bioprinting, it’s more like $50 per gram. So if we can save 30% on material that would have gone into printing these supports, that is a huge cost saving for 3-D printing for biomedical purposes,” Chen said.

Chen also mentions that this method not only reduces the environmental and cost impacts of waste materials but also saves time by eliminating a significant amount of material from the process, noting that he and his team saw print times reduced by up to 40%!

What makes this prototype different compared to preceding concepts is the massive reduction in moving parts. Previously developed dynamic print beds required motors on each pin and thus 100 moving pins times $10 means you now have a $1,000 print bed. This isn’t even including the control boards and software necessary to make it all work. Chen’s prototype uses a single motor to raise the necessary pins at the same time, making it a more cost effective solution. The custom slicing software will tell the user where to add in the metal tubes into the platform and then raises them at the right moment during the printing process.

Chen said the system could also be easily adapted for large-scale manufacturing, such as in the automotive, aerospace, and yacht industries.
“People are already building material extrusion/deposition printers for large size car and ship bodies, as well as for consumer products such as furniture. As you can imagine, their building times are really long—we’re talking about a whole day,” Chen said. “So if you can save half of that, your manufacturing time could be reduced to half a day. Using our approach could bring a lot of benefits for this type of 3D printing.” Check out their full video for more information and some cool printing timelapses. Fight on Trojans!

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