Material extrusion is one of the oldest additive manufacturing (AM) processes, having initially been developed by Scott Crump, founder of Stratasys, in 1988. Time has seen many improvements to what Crump labeled Fused Deposition Modeling, or FDM, but a large number of modern AM systems operate using what is, essentially, the same process developed more than 20 years ago.
One potential improvement to material extrusion was the addition of a second extruder head. This allowed AM systems to print in two colors and, potentially, with two different materials. The problem with adding a second extruder head is that it actually reduced the total build envelope of a 3D printer. Startup company D3D has developed a new, slimmer, universal (according to the company) dual and even quad extruder head.
Founded by brothers Carl Douglass and Brian Douglass, D3D explained its drive to build a better extruder head.
“As relative newcomers to consumer grade 3D printing, we were quickly frustrated with the capabilities of our own newly purchased printer, the quality of its parts, and the constant “tinkering” required to continue printing. We wanted something better – not just for us – but for the entire 3D printing community we had joined. We felt we shared and understood their frustrations, and had the passion, vision and experience to take our ideas for a solution from concept to reality.”
The majority of dual head extruders are built by simply adding a second head to an AM system. This does allow for dual printing, but also takes up more space, essentially reducing the build envelope of a 3D printer. D3D’s design takes up the same space as a single extruder head, but is capable of dual printing by shifting the print head from one material to another and back again.
The quad extruder is bulkier than the dual extruder, but only takes up as much space as a standard dual head extruder, according to the company. While this does reduce the available build envelope, it allows for more complex prints in multiple colors or, ideally, in multiple materials.
D3D initially took their extruder head design to Kickstarter for funding, but fell short of their goal. If proof were needed that Kickstarter isn’t the end of a project, it can be found in D3D’s continuing work on the extruder head. The campaign garnered them enough publicity that they were contacted by several 3D printer manufacturers expressing interest in a finished product. The brothers pushed through and are nearly ready to offer the extruder heads at their website.
Below you’ll find a video explaining how the slimmed down dual extruder head operates.