Everyone agrees that 3D printers are invaluable for prototyping, but there is a lot of debate about whether or not they’re practical for manufacturing at scale. The primary benefit of 3D printing is that you can immediately start producing new designs without the time or expense of retooling. But, if you need thousands of copies of the exact same design, injection molding is far more efficient. If you could print continuously without human intervention, you would narrow that gap between 3D printing and injection molding. Robot Factory’s new Steel Roller Kit can be used with many 3D printer models to enable continuous printing.
The fused-filament fabrication (FFF) 3D printing process is inherently inefficient, because parts have to be built up layer by layer. There isn’t much that can be done about that, but you can improve the situation by giving the printer the ability to work indefinitely without having to wait for a human operator to remove the completed part and start a new job. There have been many experimental efforts to achieve that, but it has proven to be difficult to actually remove the parts from the bed. That’s because we usually try to make filament adhere to the bed as strongly as possible. Robot Factory’s SilverBelt 3D printer solved that problem with the use of a conveyor belt-style bed, which easily ejects parts. Their new Steel Roller Kit brings that same principle to the 3D printer you already own.
The Steel Roller Kit should work with just about any Prusa i3 3D printer and the models derived from that design. Those include the Creality CR-10, Ender, Anycubic i3 Mega, Lulzbot TAZ, the official Prusa i3 MK3S, and many more. The kit contains the steel roller conveyor belt, which replaces the original bed and most of the Y axis assembly. Instead of the build platform sliding forwards and backwards, the conveyor belt will roll in the Y axis. When it comes time to eject a part, the bed simply rolls until the part is pushed off of the end of the conveyor belt. The conveyor belt is made of steel, but can be covered in Kapton, painter’s tape, and more.
When you perform this conversion, you should be able to retain your 3D printer’s original bed heating element. That will be positioned beneath the steel conveyor belt to keep it heated — though I suspect thermal performance will be something of an issue. You’ll need to reprogram your 3D printer’s controller with the correct Marlin Firmware, and modify your slicing software to provide the G-code required to handle the part ejection. A Simplify3D profile is available to do that. There is no word on pricing yet, but you can contact Robot Factory to find out more information.