The 3D printing industry is one of the most successful stories of embracing open source hardware. The RepRap Project, in particular, was the origin of many of the 3D printer designs that are commonly used by hobbyists today. Without heavy development in the open source community, 3D printing would not be the affordable and accessible technology that it is today. Improvements are constantly being made and spread throughout the community in a way that would never happen with proprietary, closed source technology. The new Cerberus 3D printer, which is able to print at extremely high temperatures, is a fantastic example of the benefit of open source hardware.
The Cerberus 3D printer was designed at Michigan Technological University’s Open Sustainability Lab, and was developed specifically to handle high-temperature materials that your typical FFF (Fused-Filament Fabrication) 3D printer simply can’t get hot enough to work with. ABS plastic, which most 3D printers today can utilize, is generally printed at about 240 °C with a bed temperature of about 100 °C. PLA is printed at even lower temperatures — about 210 °C and doesn’t even require a heated bed. Cerberus has a hot end that can reach a blistering 500 °C and a heated bed that can get up to 200 °C. That makes it possible to print thermoplastics like PEEK, PEKK, and ULTEM, which would be impossible to print on most hobbyist FFF 3D printers today.
Other than the high-temp hot end and heated bed, Cerberus is a fairly conventional design. There are, however, two exceptions. The first is the heavily-insulated enclosure, which helps the hot end and bed retain their temperature, while also keeping the print area hot in order to avoid part warping. The second is an optional pellet extruder that would let users print with cheap plastic pellets instead of filament spools. That’s particularly important, since the thermoplastics Cerberus can handle aren’t commonly available as filament, because so few people can even use them. Thermoplastic pellets are also dramatically cheaper than the equivalent processed filament.
Most people will never need to print these materials, which makes Cerberus a niche design. But it is an important development for people who have a need for parts that can withstand very high temperatures. PEEK and PEKK also have useful mechanical properties and chemical resistances. These materials could be very useful in the fight against coronavirus and other pathogens, because they can be sterilized using standard equipment like an autoclave. Most autoclaves work at a temperature of at least 121 °C, which is enough to soften, warp, or stress most thermoplastics. PEEK, PEKK, and ULTEM can be put through an autoclave without worry, which means Cerberus can be used to 3D-print parts that could be used in medicine.