Generative design, in the context of CAD (computer aided design), is a process in which the CAD software automatically creates an optimized design based on physical constraints and requirements defined by the operator. This often results in complex, organic shapes that would be difficult to model manually. The resulting parts use a minimal amount of material to keep weight down while still meeting the structural requirements. Now that Autodesk Fusion 360 has generative design ability, hobbyists have access to this great tool. Ric Real took advantage of that generative design to create this five-axis 3D printer.
Almost all 3D printers are three-axis machines and move in the X, Y, and Z axes. But additional axes are common for some other machine tools, like CNC mills. The exact setup depends on the machine. Many five-axis CNC mills, for example, use the conventional three axes plus a table that rotates and pivots. This 3D printer, dubbed Gen5X, works in a similar way. The upright structure contains the Z axis rails. The table rotates and pivots, and mounts onto horizontal rails for movement in the X and Y axes. The interesting shape of the structure is thanks to the generative design, which ensures rigidity without a lot of weight.
3D printing with five axes offers several significant benefits over traditional three-axis printing. Those benefits all come from the printer's ability to adjust the angle at which it extrudes plastic onto either the build plate or the part in progress. The most obvious benefit is in printing overhangs. Instead of requiring supports or messy bridging, the printer can simply rotate the part so that overhang points straight up. In a similar manner, the printer can avoid layer lines to produce smoother outer surfaces. It can also print with greater accuracy, by rotating the part so that important features align with the XY plane.
On the hardware side, Gen5X doesn't require anything special. It has a RepRap Duet control board (based on the Arduino Due) with DueX five-channel expansion board. All the stepper motors, rails, bearings, lead screws, etc. are your typical 3D printer fare. The structural parts are, of course, 3D-printable.
The software is more complicated, as the popular slicers on the market do not have support for five axes. But there are developers working on five-axis slicers, including Autodesk, DotX Control, and Open5x. Users of Fusion 360 can get preview access to Autodesk's "Multi-Axis Deposition" tools. But the tools are still experimental and only suitable for advanced users. It will be some time before software friendly to the average user comes along.
But if you are a 3D printing expert, then you can build your own Gen5X V1.0. The STL files and firmware are available on the GitHub page, so you can start right now.