Stratasys, makers of the Dimension series of commercial 3D printers has announced a breakthrough in support technology. For those who don't know, support material is frequently used in 3D printing to overcome the problem of printing overhangs. If there's no support material to hold it up, the printer can't properly deposit the build material. Support material is typically printed along with the actual object, and then removed manually or chemically after printing completes.
This support material is a consumable, just like the actual build material, and thus everyone has to pay for support material. A reduction in use of support material could be a "material" reduction in operating costs, too. How did Stratasys do it? According to the press release, their new "SMART Support" feature produces supports more intelligently:
To reduce the material used, the SMART Supports function uses a wide spacing between tool-path rasters and changes the shape of the support region. As the supports descend from the underside of the part feature to the base of the supports, the support region shrinks and transforms to a simpler shape to reduce both the material used and the build time. SMART Supports works similar to classic arch design in architecture, in which columns support layers of bricks that get progressively wider, so that the narrow columns can support a structure much wider and heavier at the top.
Not only does this reduce costs, but clearly there is less work for the printer to do, and Stratasys claims a 14% reduction in build time. Notice the difference in the left and right samples in the image above. Stratasys still offers several other support styles to choose from, including: basic, sparse and surround.
We think this is a great development - and we wonder if similar approaches could be taken by the open source 3D printer projects?