A newly developed micro extruder that could be a game changer for the 3D printing business could be on the market early next year, inventor and veteran screw designer Tim Womer said in an interview this morning with The Molding Blog.
A prototype machine is now being built for an undisclosed 3D printing manufacturer and if testing progresses as planned, the machines could be offered on the market as part of a 3D printing package very soon, Womer said.
The invention overcomes inefficiencies of filament-based 3D printing that have kept the much-hyped technology from achieving its potential as a tool for series industrial production. The process is slow and expensive because of the cost of preparing the filaments.
In Womer’s invention, standard plastic pellets are fed into the micro extruder, which continuously feeds a filament-like stream into a printing head at a rate up to 20 pounds per hour. The micro extruder can be operated off a wall outlet and could find a role with hobbyists as well as industrial users.
It’s the first of its kind.
“We did a really thorough patent search and we were really surprised that no one has done this before,” Womer said in the interview. Arburg, a builder of injection molding machinery, developed a 3D printer using standard pellets called the FreeFormer. Its 3D printer, which is unique, is fed by an injection barrel and is not continuous. The FreeFormer is very expensive and is for high-end users.
The promise of Womer’s invention is that it brings the economics of extrusion to the standard 3D printing process. Womer has been designing screws and working on the extrusion process since the 1970s and has had top technical position at some of the leading companies in the business.
He is also no stranger to 3D printing. He developed the extruders that Cincinnati Inc. uses for its Big Area Additive Manufacturing (BAAM) machinery.
Womer feels the sweet spot for his machine will be production of parts that are up to a cubic yard in size—and that takes in a big chunk of industrial manufacturing. Targets will be parts that require intricate detail and tight tolerances. Even internal geometries can be easily made with 3D printers.
Speeds of 3D printers still have limitations, but research is underway to significantly improve speeds. Womer’s machine means the plastic supply can easily keep up with the printer. Plus the resin economics are much better and the plastic will not have the additional heat history of filaments.
He hopes to have at least a couple of the micro extruders on display at NPE2018 in Orlando, Florida.