Hopefully by now you’ve heard about MakerBot’s newest 3D printer, the Replicator 2X. While 3D printing opens up a new world of possibilities, being able to print with a second plastic extruder at the same time takes it to another level entirely. There are a lot of things that become possible with a dual extruding 3D printer that are simply not feasible by any other means.
- The most obvious, and by far the simplest, use of dual extruders is to enable two color printing. Although a single-color object could be painted, there are times when painting a particular object would require a great deal skill or be very time consuming. While printing a plastic sushi set for my daughter I used dualstrusion to add black plastic “soy sauce” to white plastic dishes. Sometimes, painting an object might even be impossible. Imagine an object such as a bottle, vase, or an egg where you want to have an image or design inside. While it might be impossible to paint inside such an object, the interior image could be printed inside the object as it is being created.
- Dissolvable Support
- Dual extruders allow for printing with a dissolvable support material like PVA. Being able to print with a water soluable material means your robot could print entire mechanical devices complete with moving pieces. PVA is still very experimental and fussy as an extruded material and at the extreme forefront of dual material printing.
- Varying Densities
- With two extruders it would be possible to create an entirely solid plastic object with a customizable density. This could be used to make trick dice, a balancing toy, a toy that can’t be knocked down, a toy that can’t be stood up, or maybe a boat that is difficult to sink.
- Mechanical Properties
- Different extruded materials, such as ABS and PLA plastics, tend to have different physical and mechanical properties. ABS tends to be more flexible and PLA tends to be more rigid. A 3D printer with dualstrusion can combine the two plastics into a single object that is both flexible and rigid.
- Simultaneous Dual Printing
- One of the more exciting developments with dual extruder printing was a recent contribution by Thingiverse user thorstadg. Thorstadg created a method for operating both extruders simultaneously – allowing the printer to print two objects, one with each extruder, at the same time.
- Variable Resolution
- Two extruders means you have two nozzles at your disposal. However, there is no particular reason for both extruders to have the same size nozzle aperture. With one very fine nozzle aperture and one relatively large nozzle aperture, a single object could be printed with quick printing coarse features and very high resolution features that take more time.
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