3D printers are machines that build objects by stacking and fusing layers of material on top of one another. However, the similarities end there. They can vary widely in the materials they use, accuracy, and surface finish. A conveyor belt 3D printer is no exception, and it has distinct advantages over traditional 3D printers.
(Friendly disclaimer: the title image is the first functional prototype of the Powerbelt3D Zero. We have come so far since then!)
A conveyor belt 3D printer is an FDM/FFF 3D printer with unique mechanics that enable it to automatically remove 3D printed parts and 3D print parts larger than the machine itself.
These machines can best be compared to 3D printers that have their X and Y axiis on the same plane, parallel to the build plate. An Ultimaker is a great example of a motion system like this one.
On a conveyor belt 3D printer, instead of positioning the X and Y axiis parallel to the build plate, they are rotated at an angle. This angle can vary, but is typically 45 degrees or less. Instead of a rigid build plate that moves in one direction, the Z-axis is replaced with a conveyor belt.
But who cares? Why would you want to replace a tried and true cartesian motion system with a weird-looking angled machine with a conveyor belt? This motion system complements the additive nature of 3D printing to give it unique advantages over the traditional set up.
3 Advantages of a Conveyor Belt 3D Printer
1. Automatic 3D Print Removal
By printing objects onto a moving platform, a conveyor belt 3D printer can automatically remove objects. This means that once one part is done printing, the 3D printer can immediately start the next job. The result is a massive increase in productivity. Most 3D printers have to wait for a person to come remove the prints from the build tray before they can start the next part. By not requiring human interaction every time a part is done printing, this type of 3D printer can run around the clock without interruption.
2. Infinite 3D Printing
Most 3D printers can only print objects that fit on their build platform. In contrast, a 3D printer that uses a conveyor belt can print an infinitely long object in the Z direction. By one axis being unrestrained, you can print infinitely long objects. This makes it a great machine for all sorts of applications that would not make sense to 3D print otherwise.
3. Minimize Support Material
It is a common rule of thumb that FDM/FFF 3D printers can print at an overhang up to around 45 degrees. BUT something special happens when the extruder is rotated at an angle to the build platform. The rules of 3D printing change! Depending on the shape of an object, a conveyor belt 3D printer can use no support material or drooping bridges to make impossible overhangs possible.
Innovative 3D Printing
FDM/FFF 3D Printing has been around for a long time, without much change. The same basic concept of depositing melted plastic in layers has found a niche for some companies since it was invented in 1992. By a small adjustment of mechanics and a conveyor belt, we are able to expand what’s possible with 3D printing.
We think 3D printing is an awesome technology that can create a lot of good in the world. By creating an affordable conveyor belt 3D printer kit, we think we can play a small part in making a better future.