Reusable support for additive manufacturing


Additive manufacturing (AM) processes such as material extrusion and vat photopolymerization all require supports to print parts with overhang features. These additional supports using the same or different materials are a waste of materials since they need to be removed after the three-dimensional (3D) printing process and cannot be reused. The printing of supports is also time-consuming for the nozzle-based material extrusion processes. A new type of reusable support has been developed to address the support-related challenges in AM. The main idea is to use a set of dynamically controlled metal pins as a programmable building platform. In the layer fabrication, the metal pins will move up one-layer thickness after the printing of each layer. Also, each metal pin will automatically stop at a specified height that is determined by a combination of metal tubes, magnetic discs, and magnetic rings. Additional supports can be 3D-printed on the top surface of the metal pins, while the amount of the supports is dramatically reduced. After the printing process, the metal rods can be separated from the part and reset for the next printing job. A prototype system has been constructed to demonstrate the reusable support principle. The layout optimization and toolpath generation algorithms for the reusable support are also presented. The experimental results of several test cases show an average of nearly 40% saving on the printing time and material with increased reliability and robustness. The reusable support provides a support generation strategy that could be beneficial to other AM processes such as stereolithography and selective laser melting.

Additive Manufacturing