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Turning the Lathe on its Head: A Cylindrical 3D Printer

Gareth Halfacree

A lathe, one of the most common workshop machines, is traditionally a means of removing material from a rotating cylinder to create a new object. A team of students at Imperial College London recently turned that concept on its head, however, building a lathe which added material to a rotating cylinder - creating what they describe as an Ardino Mega-powered "lathe-type 3D printer." While a traditional 3D printer operates in Cartesian, rectangular space, the lathe-type printer created by Alexandros Kenich, Matthieu Burnand-Galpin, Erwan Rolland and Youssef Ibrahim operates cylindrically. The result, the team found, was a device which for cylindrical parts can create its printed objects more quickly than a standard Cartesian printer while producing a stronger and more durable finished object - albeit at the cost of increased material usage. The team's impressive write-up goes into incredible detail about the project, from its design stages and project management right through to issues discovered during its assembly, and includes a full budget break-down demonstrating how the team built the system for less than £530. While some issues were highlighted - including the complexity inherent in creating the 'slice' files, which involve unwrapping a 3D model helically - it's a creation which shows considerable promise, and a real change from the usual 3D printing projects.

Parts have been printed that effectively demonstrate the unique features of the printer. In particular, the printer enables the production of complex geometries and overhangs not achievable with standard 3D printers. For example, propellers, springs and external threads can be easily produced. Testing suggests that components printed using this method can be significantly stronger than those printed in Cartesian coordinates. Indeed, interweaving can be effectively implemented and tailored to specific loading conditions.

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