Fused Layer Manufacturing Challenge: 3D Print Whole Layers at Once

RepRap retailer and open source 3D printing proselytizers RepRap Central have issued a new challenge to the RepRap community. Rather than asking them to simply design and build their own FDM 3D printer, they have suggested that the community work on a new subtype of FDM 3D printing that they have dubbed Fused Layer Manufacturing.

This year’s RepRap Central challenge is to create a 3D printer using a Fused Layer Manufacturing (FLM) process that will print an entire layer at the same time. That means developing an entirely new type of printing head and extrusion system that has never been done before.

“Imagine the benefits of this type of 3D Printer. Very rapid build times, super smooth vertical operation, a level of accuracy yet to be experienced and super quiet operation,” RepRap Central explained in the challenge announcement.” What could this look like? Well we think it would only need a (Vertical) Z Axis. Gone are the mechanics of the current X and Y Axis used today in most if not all existing 3D Printers. A remarkably innovative ‘active extruder’ would be key to the design. We think it may even fill the width and depth of the entire X and Y build area. It could be a hybrid extruder possibly made from a mix of technologies, 3d printing/injection moulding?”

Honestly, just thinking of the mechanics involved in creating something like that is making my head hurt. RepRap Central isn’t kidding when he says that it is not going to be easy to do. This type of printer sounds like it would need to completely recreate FDM technology from the bottom up. Not only would a way of extruding an entire slice of your model at the same time need to be developed, but the software capable of controlling such a complex extruder would need to be written.

But this is the RepRap community, and if anyone can crowdsource some ideas, this is where it’s going to happen. I’m pretty excited to see the results of this challenge, and if you want to participate, you can just jump right in. There are no formalities other than wanting to try your hand at something. The entire point of open source technology is learning from what others have done before. Every unsuccessful attempt is an opportunity to get it right. Every failure is really just one thing that you don’t have to try. Let’s see what the RepRap community comes up with, it should, at the very least, be interesting.