Two students from the Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW) in Switzerland have built a 3D printer with a three-axis tilting print bed, giving the printer a total of six axes. The 3D printer, still in its prototype phase, could be used to print objects with overhangs without adding supports.
The concept of a multi-axis 3D printer with rocking, rotating, or tilting parts is nothing new—Japanese company ENOMOTO Kogyo demonstrated a functional five-axis 3D printer last year, and we’ve seen similar printers from Hermle and even independent students. You can see the appeal: theoretically, users of multi-axis 3D printers can print objects with even the most extreme overhangs—without using support structures. This is because such a printer can simply tilt the print bed at an angle, turning what would have been a horizontally extended “overhang” into a stable and supported vertical structure. Such printers also hint at the possibility of printing smooth curves, by evenly increasing the tilt of the print bed as filament extrudes laterally.
With these benefits in mind, two students from the Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW) in Switzerland have attempted to build their own six-axis 3D printer, incorporating a print bed that can tilt on three axes. Add those to the standard X, Y, and Z axes taken care of by the moving print head, that’s a total of six axes. Oliver Tolar and Denis Herrmann, the two students involved, say that the machine could be used to print structures with complex overhangs, saving on support material and potentially cutting down on printing time too.
Oliver Tolar and Denis Herrmann with the six-axis 3D printer prototype
Although the six-axis 3D printer sounds (and looks) pretty impressive, there is one important caveat to the project. With limited time and resources to develop the 3D printer, Tolar and Herrmann were not able to develop software capable of simultaneously moving the print bed and print head. As such, the printer can tilt the print bed to handle extreme overhangs, but it cannot gradually tilt the print bed during extrusion to produce soft curves. Given this limitation, some skeptical observers have expressed doubt as to whether such a printer would really be all that useful, noting that classic printed support structures might actually be the cheaper (and more dependable) option in the long run.
Despite the limitations of the Zurich students’ 3D printer, its six-axis operation does provide some important advantages. When printing hexagonal structures, for example, each side of the hexagon can be printed along an axis in straight lines, not diagonally. This ensures that no side is weaker than the other, and that each follows a similar “grain.”
It is not yet clear whether the students plan to continue working on their multi-axis 3D printer; it is even less clear whether the 3D printing industry will ever warm to such a design.