The technology has been around for some 25 years now, but innovators are stepping up the plate when it comes to envisioning how 3D printers can work.
Professor Yong Chen at the University of Southern California and his team of researchers have created what they're calling a 6-Axis 3D printer.
So how does it differ from the standard 3D printer? Rather than using an extruder confined to the X, Y and Z axes which can only output layers, Chen's version of the technology can print in multiple directions, from multiple angles and is no longer chained to the restrictions of layer-based modeling.
"Most additive manufacturing processes are layer-based with only three-dimensional motions in the X, Y and Z axes," Chen said. "There are drawbacks associated with such limited motions - non-conformal material properties, stair-stepping effect, and limitations on building around inserts."
According to Chen, those limitations mean it's difficult to apply additive manufacturing certain design ideas. Chen and his team based their design on a Stewart Mechanism and used that construct to develop a prototype system for use in multi-directional additive manufacturing processes like Fused Deposition Modeling and CNC accumulation.
Chen says the technical challenges he and his team faced came mostly in the form of hardware design, coordinating transformation, platform constraint checking, movement simulation, tool path generation, and part fabrication.
He added that the team developed test cases to illustrate the capability of multi-directional additive manufacturing processes.