Before there were technologies like numerical control and programmable logic control, duplicate parts were created on milling machines. The movements of the cutting tool traces via a cam, template, or model which allowed the cutter head to effectively mimic the movement of a tracing stylus. The milling heads were often mounted on a pantograph, a device which allowed tracing a template.
Once industry began to employ actuators like servos, leadscrews, machine slides and spindles to control cutting devices, pantograph milling machines were a thing of the past.
Enter the 3D printer, and with it, the ability to create and re-create 3D objects of deep complexity and shape.
But one artist, Daniël de Bruin, is looking back rather than forward when it comes to creating three-dimensional objects, and his device, rather than employing computerized and electrical systems, is a manual answer to the problem of producing them. A product designer at the Art Academy in Utrecht, Netherlands, de Bruin has no immediate plans to produce more of his throwback 3D printers, but he adds that once he graduates from school, that may well change.
Instead of building a traditional 3D printer, de Bruin decided to harken back to a past when pantographs and mills ruled the shop floor by making a device which doesn't require software or electricity to work its magic.
His 3D printer is driven by a 7.5 pound weight.
"The weight allows me to be connected with the process because there's no external force involved like electricity; it's still me that's making the print," says de Bruin. "By physically building and powering the machine, the products that come out of it are the result of all the energy that has gone into it."
The final shape of the object is determined by shaping aluminum wire and allowing the device to follow that shape as it extrudes material.
The machine took de Bruin 9 months to develop.
Next up iteration? A desktop version with a spring-loaded drive to replace the weight.
"Maybe an open-source, do-it-yourself kind of thing, that would be great," he said. "I really love to see other people being inspired with this old-new technology, combined. I started by making the pressing mechanism, rack and propulsion. I tested those mechanisms thoroughly, and in the meantime, I was sketching and thinking how to make the printing platform. There were a lot of factors to think about and even more to choose from. The biggest challenge was to keep the wall thickness the same when the radius becomes bigger."
The designer solved the major problem using an Occam's Razor approach. He said to combat the issue with the extrusion rate remaining constant, he changed the size of the platform.
And for those who complain about the speed of FDM 3D printers, de Bruin says his machine is actually faster. It all comes down to a nozzle diameter of approximately 2mm – rather than the 0.35mm – 0.4mm which is the standard for most 3D printers.
While there may be a slight loss in quality with his process, he says his old-school machine can print objects using clay material, pasta, starch bio plastics, and pretty much any material that can fit through the extrusion nozzle, which doesn't require heat.