A new “intelligent” 3D printer has been launched on Kickstarter.
The Athena mSLA resin 3D printer was developed by Concepts 3D Systems, and it includes a number of advanced features that bear some discussion.
The campaign was successful, with over 200 backers providing near US$200K in funding. But what attracted them to back this project?
The key feature seems to be a force sensor integrated into the build platform. This sensor allows the system to dynamically detect the forces pushing up or down on the build plate as it moves throughout the print job.
For example, it can detect when the plate touches the bottom of the vat, or when force is released from the plate when a layer completes peeling. This allows the system to do a number of intriguing functions, including:
- Peel detection
- Crash detection
- Dynamic wait
- Resin level detection
- Fail detection
- Automatic calibration
What do all of these mean? Let’s take a look at the most interesting ones.
Automatic calibration means that you won’t have to go through the usual leveling process when the machine is set up. Instead the Athena can do it automatically.
Crash detection is of particular interest. One of the common failure modes occurs when a portion of the print detaches from the build plate unexpectedly and falls into the resin vat. Normally this is quite dangerous, as the next time the plate comes down for a print layer, it will press that (possibly sharp) piece into the FEP. I’ve lost quite a few FEP films because of this effect.
Dynamic wait is interesting. Most MSLA 3D However, this device could detect the presence of junk in the vat with a sudden unexpected force before it hits the bottom. That allows the machine to stop and you save the machine from disaster. You also save time and materials that would otherwise be wasted on a failed print.
Resin level detection is interesting: evidently there is a tiny force detected when the lowering build plate reaches the top of the resin. This allows the machine to know exactly how much resin remains in the tank.
The dynamic wait feature apparently detects when the flow of resin has completed during lift operations. This can improve print quality and also optimize print durations.
Printers have a fixed duration for the amount of time they allow each layer to peel off the resin tank. The build plate rises, and then the wait begins, and the duration must be sufficient for the entire layer to peel off. If not, then the next layer fails because no fresh resin was able to reach the area that didn’t peel off.
It’s also possible to detect, via the force sensor, when the layer is released from the FEP. In practice, this is a variable time that depends on the geometry of the 3D model. However, this feature would allow the Athena 3D printer to “wait” only as long as required for the release to take place.
Another side effect of this approach is to dramatically speed up print jobs, with the company suggesting up to 60% time reduction is possible.
These are all outstanding features that really should be on every MSLA 3D printer. As far as I can tell, there are only two machines with this feature so far: the Athena and the Anycubic Photon M5s. However, it’s likely we’ll quickly see it become a standard feature.
It’s startling to see how much benefit can be created with the addition of a simple sensor and software to interpret its results.