Rethinking design techniques for high speed extrusion 3D printing

August 10, 2021
By Tom Mulholland, Ph.D., Materials Development Engineer, Essentium, Inc. By Tom Mulholland, Ph.D., Materials Development Engineer, Essentium, Inc.

Additive Manufacturing (AM) is no longer the way of the future.  It IS the future. It is a proven technology that is radically changing the way products are made from shoes to NASA rocket parts. After years of stagnating productivity, many manufacturers are utilizing this transformative technology for large-scale production to increase flexibility and speed production times, leading to real innovation.

Currently, there exists a common myth that AM can be used to create any part(s) designed for traditional manufacturing processes. However, similar to all other manufacturing processes, the key to success in adopting and deploying AM is to design specifically for the 3D printing process. As such, engineering designers will need to adopt new design principles to optimize a part’s functionality while reducing material, time, and cost.

While there are already many design tips and techniques for AM available on the web, such as tips for FFF, SLS and SLA, these design tips are not always applicable to filament printing for High Speed Extrusion, which is a distinct process. Here we look at some design tips that will specifically help design for HSE to achieve faster print times without sacrificing quality or repeatability.

Avoid Sharp Corners

Cornering refers to the behavior of the toolhead as it goes around a corner, or changes direction in the XY plane. When it comes to design, the goal is to strategically adjust corners to allow the toolhead to maintain maximum speed. 

When designing parts for High Speed Extrusion printing, there is no added time or expense to adding fillets (the rounding of corners). The rule of thumb is to make the fillet radius greater than or equal to 5 millimeters and using high resolution STL files during the design process. This allows the toolhead to move fast while maintaining geometric accuracy.

The rationale is that any corners sharper than this require the printer to decelerate and then accelerate again, much like a car slowing down as it negotiates a corner. In a recent case, we saved 15% in print time by adding fillets to a fixture, which previously took 1hour 45mins to print. That’s impressive for one part but imagine the time savings for hundreds or thousands of parts using this simple design technique.

By avoiding sharp corners in the part’s design, manufacturers not only reduce print time but also maintain a consistent print speed for the best quality parts. 

Optimize Travel Movements

Why do engineers designing parts for High Speed Extrusion printing need to think about travel movements? With this type of printing, travel movements matter as they can have a significant impact on print time.

3D printing processes like SLA have travel movements in the Z direction, but in filament printing and High Speed Extrusion printing, the travel movements are in the XY plane. This means travel movements take place on every layer, so the traveling movements are multiplied by the number of layers in a similar cross-section.

The key to optimizing travel movements is to minimize the number of islands (cross-sectional areas of a part that are not connected). This reduces the number of travel movements to ensure a more consistent extrusion rate, which will improve the quality, enable faster printing, and help avoid defects like stringing and blobbing. 

Manufacturers can shave off considerable time by reducing travel movements. For example, a representative fixture printed a whopping 24% faster after this optimization.

Plan Toolpaths for Thin Walls

In planning the toolpath for High Speed Extrusion, engineering designers need to consider the way the printer will lay down the material. 

When designing a thin wall, they should think about designing in multiples of the extrusion width, or the nozzle diameter that they’re going to use. For instance, on the Essentium HSE 3D Printing Platform, we use 0.4 millimeter nozzles and 0.8 millimeter nozzles, in general, which means our toolpath width is going to be the same, 0.4 or 0.8 millimeters. 

Avoiding uneven extrusion ensures the best quality and the best strength for part walls. The payback in terms of time savings is also significant with a 17% reduction in print speed on a recent chip tray we printed using this technique.

By embracing these three techniques, engineering designers will ensure manufacturers can, without a doubt, improve their parts' speed and performance. And, more importantly, designing specifically for High Speed Extrusion means that manufacturers will spend less time honing 3D-production processes and be able to rapidly realize the true value of industrial-scale additive manufacturing. 

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