The build plate is by far the most crucial part of any 3D printing machine. Creating something outside of it, something bigger that can be handled by the machine, makes its job more vital and, at the same time, remarkable. In this Tech Tuesday episode, Tom and Tracy Hazzard share something amazing that can be done in the 3D printing space, which is building outside the build plate. Autodesk’s Project Escher program has done 3D printing outside the build plate, and its ability to do so can be compared to that of Titan 3D Printers. Tom and Tracy give their review of the program, highlighting how Autodesk was able to print larger products. With their drive to go and make something unique in the tech world, Autodesk is a true 3D printing inspiration.
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3D Printing Outside the Build Plate
Talking about 3D printing outside the build plate because of Autodesks Project Escher program. They have conceptually done that. They are software people and they know software as well, if not better than, anybody since they have been writing software for CAD for decades. They have a development team that is pushing the edge of the envelope of what you can do for FFF 3D Printing where it doesn’t matter how big the build plate is. This is a different kind of Tech Tuesday so Tracy is excited to not be talking about the excruciating stuff like how to clean out your nozzle. That kind of stuff just frustrates her and is the type of stuff that she thinks we shouldn’t have to hack anymore, it should be simpler. This Tech Tuesday is more of an opening up possibilites tech.
It’s interesting because Autodesk being able to 3D printing outside the build plate is distinctly different from Titan Robotics’ very large printer. That company is building very robust industrial 3D printers that use servomotors. The owner said he could build a 3D printer any size, that he was doing one now, and he was doing one that was four foot by eight foot build platform. He was still only doing it with one extruder, one print head moving around.
Project Escher is really cool and it looks robust and it’s not like it’s some hacked printer, it may very well be using servomotors but we don’t know the details, but what it is doing is that it’s allowing all these print heads to move around in concert with each other. They are all being controlled through the software so that they are all doing the part that they need to do and then moving away and not getting in each other’s way. It’s got some serious orchestration going on here, like a dance of sorts.
As you know, we live in Southern California, and there is a lot of building with new homes – which is surprising in this day and age, but I guess there is always more desert they can convert into housing, but there are these earth moving trucks that go around first thing for about a month at a new site that go around in like a parade or dance. It’s almost like a train of earth moving vehicles that are preparing and grading the land in this planned way. It can be fascinating to watch.
Earth moving trucks “dance” remind us of what the extruders operating with the Project Escher software are doing. Watch at about 1:20 in the video to see how the trucks physically link up like train cars.
The point of that though is that it’s planned, and that’s exactly what is happening with these print heads too – one is moving and the other is moving in and out. They are all going and doing their jobs, but they are also planting material in all different places. You can actually create very large, long parts, or a wide part, whatever you need.
To be a little more specific, imagine this, you have an average sized table 30 inches by 60 inches in size, pretty darn big. On their website, Autodesk shows a 3D printer with a build platform that is somewhere in the neighborhood of 18 inches wide but 60 inches long. Instead of having one print head, one gantry that is moving x-y across the whole thing, which would take a very long time to print something in FFF, they have broken it up. In the video you’ll see that they have five different extruders, that’s five different print heads moving independently from each other on that x and y axis. Clearly each one only goes about one-fifth of the whole length of the table. That’s about 5 feet long for this 30×60 table, so about 12 inches. So each one is operating in a space, and it must overlap slightly, essentially operating in a space that’s 12 inches of or one-fifth of that 60 inch table. Each one is laying down one-fifth of a very long large part that they are making, but they are working at the same time. They are all working on the same layer at a time and they all have to go up to the next layer at the same time. They build right up to each other so you are making one seamless part, it’s just not one extruder that is doing it.
Just from the way that it looks, they might be overlapping slightly. It makes a lot of sense because when we create anything, whether it’s a textile or any kind of part, if you are interlocking pieces and going into each other’s territory, it’s going to be a stronger part. They very well may be doing that. They have to fuse to each other anyway. The point is that Autodesk is saying that they don’t care how big a part is, they are making machines that can build whatever part they need to make. Not figuring out what parts they can make on the machine or to have to break up the parts and make them in pieces and then assemble together after the fact.
When you think about this, it really makes sense that Autodesk is doing this because they are software people and they have really gotten into this and approached this from a software prospective. If you were any other 3D printer company trying to do that, I think the software challenge of this would really set you back and make you reconsider doing it.
That’s exactly what we’ve been finding out all along the way. When we’ve tried out the dual extruder, we found that software is really the hold back. We could do a lot more technically, but the software wasn’t capable. As if the software was making it dumbed down so it didn’t look good at the end of the day. Finding the same thing with a lot of the 3D printers we have been testing right now in the Battle of the Mini 3D Printers, it’s going badly. It’s taking a long time because there are actually a lot of software challenges which will be in a review coming up on the M3D printer.
The hardware of most reprap style FFF printers is very similar. There are some exceptions, some use higher quality motors and things, but by and large you’ve got Raspberry Pi driving these things, you’ve got stepper motors being used, the same bearings, etc. With all that hardware parody the real differentiator is the software. Autodesk knows that the hardware is known, so they are creating software that pushes the edge of the envelope and what FFF 3D printing can do. And that it expands the build plate so you can be 3D printing outside the build plate, which is exactly what they’ve done here. I think it’s really promising and shows that when someone gets to the stage at which they can really concentrate, spend research time on, and really approach the 3D printing industry from more than just, “Let’s one up the last printer that was made,” then we are really going to see a lot of revolution happen and what this can do and can create.
We have a lot of furniture expertise, and you could make some really big parts using this. I could see making, not that you would want to, but in my windsurfer days when I was sailing a lot more, I could see making a new boom for around the sail. You could build a printer big enough to make a mast. I know you are asking why would you want to make a mast out of plastic material, I don’t know either but the point is that the limitations are really starting to go away.
This is an advanced research project and not a commercially available product. A company that has the drive to go and make something different can do it. This shows that you can do it. Think about all the different things you could do to like a surfboard, making it in different forms. Think about building an entire surfboard with the infill percentage calculated to give you a certain kind of weight and buoyancy based on your body type. That could be an awesome opportunity. That’s where we’ve come in and said that the 3D printers have to fit what you want to do with it and that means that the software has to fit too.
It’s such a really cool high tech advanced project in FFF 3D printing and a very close cousin to what I’m sure a lot of you are doing on your 3D printers or at least trying and wanting to do. This gets me excited about someday getting involved in making my own 3D printer to do something different like this. I’ll probably need a bigger space and I still need more time than I have to do it, but some of the possibilities here still get me really excited. Think about the size of the objects, there’s nothing SLA, SLS, or any other process that can make single parts this big. It’s something unique that FFF printing can do.
That’s what we’ve been working on lately, looking at the idea of how we can create things that expand out of the build plate by rotating parts or flipping them over, and having things unfold after they are printed. We don’t want to have to glue anything together, we think that defeats the purpose of 3D printing. Our end goal is to create an end use product that’s ready to go right off the build plate with minimal amount of labor. We’ve been talking about doing that and being able to grow outside, in our case, the 12 inch cube. I think this Escher Project from Autodesk asks the question of why even have a cube? So why have one if you have the software capability. You think that since somebody has written this software to do this, I bet that somehow it’s getting out there for someone to use and apply in other ways. I would hope so. Soon to be an API near you! One can wish.
Anyway, if you haven’t yet, be sure to get the free coffee sleeve that we designed by heading over to our sponsor MakerBot’s site. We have been getting some flack through comments from having an advertiser, so just want to address it now and head it off. It’s the reality of keeping WTFFF going, we’ve provided 235 episodes before we had an advertiser and it’s not just a lot of cost to provide it, but it’s a lot of time that we’ve put into it. We do really appreciate your support and patience in having an advertiser on here, and we feel strongly that we bring advertisers that add value to you. If you disagree with that, that’s okay, we can accept that criticism in comments. If you don’t like the advertisers, that’s fine, but we feel there’s a large percentage of our audience that does and can benefit from those advertisers. We said this back in episode 154 at the beginning of the year that we mentioned how we are absolutely going to maintain our integrity and our unbiased opinion and approach to how we do things.
Those that advertise don’t get special treatment, but we absolutely are going to continue to conduct interviews on subjects and things that we feel would be of interest to you regardless of whether that company is advertising on the podcast or not. MakerBot is the first advertiser and we have had other companies that we’ve interviewed multiple times, or they are related to that company who are now also indicating that they would like to advertise on the podcast. That’s great and we will take them on as advertisers and it won’t affect what we interview or cover about them. It wouldn’t be right to never interview our advertisers and not get to talk and do a deep dive into whether or not you should care about them.
That’s where we got some comments last week about having two episodes back to back where one had the advertisement and one was with MakerBot’s Drew Lentz. The reality is that education has been an important topic to our audience and you guys are always sending in questions so we are always trying to find a new expert, and we found him and recorded that way before we found out MakerBot was going to advertise. I’m sorry if the coincidence of it being two MakerBot things in the same week was problematic, but the content doesn’t change in terms of why we brought it to you.
Anyway, we can take the criticism so you can post your thoughts in the comments. We can always agree to disagree and be respectful to each other. One last thing about MakerBot is that they are a very large company with a lot of resources and a lot of experts who work in that company who are available to be interviewed from time to time. They are more so available than other companies who we have approached to do interviews. Drew Lentz provided a lot of valuable information to anybody regardless of what 3D printer you use. So are we therefore not allowed to interview him just because he is from MakerBot and they are our sponsor? I don’t see that making a lot of sense. He’s got a good subject and a lot of valuable material for anybody listening to this podcast.
If there is anybody out there who may think that they can’t afford to advertise but they are a 3D printer company, a software company, or a consultant and they think you have value for us – it’s not like we don’t take solicitation for guests. If you come to us, and we think you fit our format, then absolutely we can put you on the show. If you aren’t out there reaching out to us that’s your issue!
Just want to address that and put it out there again why we are taking sponsors and why it’s so critically important to the growth of this podcast and it’s ability to continue. We appreciate your support in that and we hope you’ll continue to support this podcast so we can keep brining you useful and enjoyable content.
- Autodesk Project Escher
- Titan 3D Printers
- MakerBot free Hazz Design coffee sleeve offer
- 3D Print Teaching Startpoint with Drew Lentz
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