E3D's Next 3D Printer?
E3D-Online is very well known for their 3D printer components, but did you know they are working on their own 3D printer, again?
The UK-based company sells a variety of upgrade and repair components for various desktop 3D printers, but they are best known for their versatile V6 hot end, which has now been incorporated into many different units by manufacturers who knew they couldn’t make a better hot end. And the E3D name doesn’t hurt their marketing, either.
But along with the 3D printer parts, the company has been slowly developing a complete 3D printer of their own that includes a unique feature: a tool changer.
The printer, which is still most definitely under development, will obviously include the familiar E3D components, but will have an advanced motion system that should provide significantly better quality prints. They’ve also designed the machine for easy assembly.
But for me the most interesting feature is their tool changer. Here’s a short video showing how it would work:
As you can see in the video, the idea is to use four different extruder/hot ends simultaneously, and pick the one you need at the moment in mid print.
This is a very interesting approach as it is quite different from the other two major approaches for multi-material printing.
The traditional method of doing multi-material printing is to strap two or more extruders on the X-axis and have them move about in sync, enabling the extruder motor on each only when required. But this approach is fraught with problems and is now slowly disappearing from the market. While all the extruders had to be carefully aligned with each other, the big problems were first that the “other” extruder(s) would drip material on the print, at least causing quality issues, and sometimes causing the print to fail. Secondly, for each extra extruder mounted, you would lose a bit of the X-axis print volume. With four extruders, there’s not a lot left.
The more recent approach to multi-material 3D printing has been the single nozzle-multiple extruder approach, which eliminates the nozzle alignment and drip issues entirely. In this approach, a mixing nozzle accepts multiple input filaments. By coordinating the motors on the filaments, one could print a single material and then switch to another. Or you could mix colors in the nozzle. This approach works pretty well, except that for a consistent material change you have to purge the nozzle by printing waste material off to the side of the model.
E3D’s tool changing approach may solve this problem, as there would be no need for purging: each nozzle is independent and is ready to go.
While there would be a slight delay due to the switching movements required, it could be faster to print than the single nozzle approach. On the other hand, it may be more expensive as you have more hardware to buy - and fix when it breaks.
One issue with the E3D approach is that there is no capability to mix materials, as you would get on the single nozzle approach. However, this is clearly a situation where you choose the 3D printer you need for the job, and E3D’s proposed design could be of great use to some.
The company does not yet market the device, as it’s still under development. However, they are about to let loose with the first 30 pre-production beta units and are seeking feedback. If you’re interested, you can fill out their application form: that’s right, they are picking the most experienced people to do the testing in order to obtain the best feedback.
Meanwhile the rest of us will wait for their testing to complete and E3D to market the printer to the public.
One more thing: E3D did in fact launch a 3D printer a few years ago, the BigBox, but the project failed. We wrote a story about that experience, in which they received far more orders than they could have produced, and the project failed.
I suspect this time they will employ many lessons learned from their first attempt at marketing a 3D printer.