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Autodesk’s new 3D printer uses 5 print heads simultaneously to make gigantic objects

For all its innovation and ingenuity, 3D printers certainly aren’t perfect. Aside from the occasional misprint or jammed extruder, perhaps the biggest thing holding 3D-printing back from becoming truly revolutionary is the amount of time it takes to manufacture larger projects. Understanding this, a team of engineers at the 3D design company Autodesk decided to program a new parallel, multi-headed 3D printing system called Project Escher. In short, Project Escher nixes conventional one-headed printing in favor of using multiple nozzles — working in perfect harmony — to dramatically speed up production.

Essentially a robotic assembly line, Autodesk’s Project Escher system is especially effective for larger, industrial-scale projects. Obviously, hobby printers likely would scoff at the idea that 3D-printing something takes too long considering the tech completely transformed the industry of manufacturing, allowing people to construct literally anything at a fraction of the time it typically takes. However, there’s no denying that using a single nozzle for the entirety of one project is tedious — even if it’s a machine experiencing the monotony.

“A lot of why things haven’t developed to kind of hype a lot of the excitement around 3D printing is that there’s been an undue focus on the actual hardware, and a lot of the software has kind of been left behind,” says Autodesk 3D printing research scientist Andreas Bastian. “Should the same software that’s making a hip implant also make airplane parts, and also make bottle openers?”

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Answering this question guided the team towards developing a software system capable of making 3D printers even smarter. What this means is that although they created a way to make use of a number of nozzles in a collaborative manner, the heads don’t simply wait to be passed a certain part of the print. Instead, the software allows each nozzle to work intelligently while printing to perfectly compliment one another during the project.

“What makes Escher special is to enable collaborative fabrication between a number of tools to scribe that geometry parallel,” Bastian continues. “When you start getting into abilities to parallelize fabrication, it dramatically reduces time and cost of a lot of these geometries.”

The system also allows for the use of various printing nozzles, giving users an even wider range of available functions. For instance, users have the ability to dedicate a few printheads to additive printing while using another head for subtractive tech to remove excesses from the print. Autodesk hardware lead Cory Bloom says the software even supports pick and place mechanisms to move various parts of the build during a print, or hot staking to fuse two parts of the project instantaneously.

It’s unknown if Project Escher will be made available for anyone to incorporate into their 3D-printing setups, though considering how beneficial it appears to be, this has all the makings of being the next step in the industry.