Commercially available fused deposition modeling (FDM) printers have yet to bridge the gap between printing soft, flexible materials and printing hard, rigid materials. This work presents a custom printer solution, based on open-source hardware and software, which allows a user to print both flexible and rigid polymer materials. The materials printed include NinjaFlex, SemiFlex, acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene (ABS), Nylon, and Polycarbonate.

In order to print rigid materials, a custom, high-temperature heated bed was designed to act as a print stage. Additionally, high temperature extruders were included in the design to accommodate the printing requirements of both flexible and rigid filaments. Across 25 equally spaced points on the print plate, the maximum temperature difference between any two points on the heated bed was found to be ∼9°C for a target temperature of 170°C. With a uniform temperature profile across the plate, functional prints were achieved in each material.

The print quality varied, dependent on material; however, the standard deviation of layer thicknesses and size measurements of the parts were comparable to those produced on a Zortrax M200 printer. After calibration and further process development, the custom printer will be integrated into the NEXUS system — a multiscale additive manufacturing instrument with integrated 3D printing and robotic assembly (NSF Award #1828355).

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