Palette 2 Adds Multiple Colors and Materials to FFF 3D Printing
Michael Molitch-Hou posted on August 27, 2018 |
Engineering.com speaks to Mosaic Manufacturing about its new accessory for multi-material and multic...

Though many desktop 3D printer manufacturers, like Printrbot, are now lost to the sands of time and memory, fused filament fabrication (FFF) is continuing to evolve. One area where this evolution has been most apparent is in the material space, with manufacturers large and small developing new feedstock that allows FFF systems to compete with industrial manufacturing technology.

The Palette 2, integrated into a MakerGear M3 3D printer, printing a multicolor dinosaur skull. (Image courtesy of Mosaic Manufacturing.)
The Palette 2, integrated into a MakerGear M3 3D printer, printing a multicolor dinosaur skull. (Image courtesy of Mosaic Manufacturing.)

Canadian startup Mosaic Manufacturing is one company that’s aiming to help users take advantage of these developments with an accessory that can allow FFF machines to 3D print with multiple colors and materials. We spoke to Mosaic Cofounder and Chief Operating Officer Chris Labelle to learn about the business’s latest product, the Palette 2, which brings some unique advancements to Mosaic’s original system, launched on Kickstarter in 2014.

Multicolor and Multi-Material FFF 3D Printing

When Mosaic launched its Kickstarter for the original Palette in 2014, it seemed unbelievable. The product could splice pieces of different colored filaments, fuse them together, and feed them to just about any FFF 3D printer, which could then 3D print multicolored objects.

Part of the reason the Palette seemed so unbelievable was because other companies had previously tried to invent various forms of multicolor 3D printing. The most notable example may be botObjects, which claimed to have developed a method for melting and mixing different colored filaments to create “full-color” prints.

The startup, eventually bought by 3D Systems, never quite proved this capability. Neither did a startup called Spectrom, which had developed an accessory for dying white filament as it was being printed. And, though XYZprinting claims to have a full-color FFF system, we have not seen or used the technology firsthand.

Palette, however, has been used by its community, including the Kickstarter backers that brought the project to life. The device’s biggest advantage, when first developed, was that it could convert any single-extruder printer into a multiple-extruder machine, allowing it to print with multiple colors. Since that initial release, Mosaic has continued to advance the technology.

Watchbands for Apple Watch printed in rigid and flexible materials using Palette 2. (Image courtesy of Mosaic Manufacturing.)
Watchbands for Apple Watch printed in rigid and flexible materials using Palette 2. (Image courtesy of Mosaic Manufacturing.)

With the Palette+, the startup added multi-material 3D printing so that users could combine rigid, soft and soluble filaments within a single print. That opened up a lot of possibilities for users to create more complex objects.

The Palette 2

The Palette 2 is an upgrade to the earlier systems that relies on many of the same mechanics. Here’s how it works: multiple spools of filament are fed into four different holes at the bottom of the unit. A razor then cuts one filament, which is then retracted, leaving only a small piece of the feedstock.

Then, a second filament is fed into the “splice core,” where it is also cut. These two pieces are then heated and pressed together into a single piece. This process is repeated hundreds to thousands of times, depending on the size of the print.

Both the Palette and Palette+ were external devices, making it difficult for users to fit everything on their desktops. Additionally, a filament detection sensor and buffer system were located outside of the main Palette hardware itself, creating room for more user error.

The Palette 2 is a far more compact system, with every component contained within a single piece of hardware. Unlike its predecessors, the Palette 2 is also much more user accessible, featuring a clear case that can be easily removed by unscrewing a handful of thumbscrews.

A finite element analysis model 3D printed with Palette 2, demonstrating industrial applications for the technology. (Image courtesy of Mosaic Manufacturing.)
A finite element analysis model 3D printed with Palette 2, demonstrating industrial applications for the technology. (Image courtesy of Mosaic Manufacturing.)

“One of the key pieces of feedback [on previous generations] was that, if users were using brittle filament or something less standard, like wood filament, and they have a broken piece of filament stuck in their Palette, they would spend half an hour taking it apart with all of these tools,” Labelle said. “With Palette 2, you’re able to see where all of the filament would go and access every piece of the product without any tools.”

As interesting as the Palette 2’s hardware is, its operating software is equally ingenious. With previous generations, users would take something like Simplify3D, import a variety of CAD files, each representing a different color/material, arrange them properly, and laboriously assign the proper filament profile to each CAD file.

In a demo performed by Labelle, this process, when applied to just four CAD files, required about 10 different steps. With more complicated projects that have many more files, this process could become quite burdensome.

Attached to each of the colors is a material profile associated with print settings, such as extruder temperature. The g-code that is outputted from CANVAS directs the printer and Palette 2 to adjust settings when necessary. (Image courtesy of Mosaic.)
Attached to each of the colors is a material profile associated with print settings, such as extruder temperature. The g-code that is outputted from CANVAS directs the printer and Palette 2 to adjust settings when necessary. (Image courtesy of Mosaic.)

Mosaic’s new CANVAS software not only automatically arranges the files, but also enables users to simply drag and drop material profiles onto each CAD file. The result can then be exported as a single g-code file and sent directly to the printer wirelessly using the CANVAS Hub, an accessory meant to bring wireless capability to 3D printers.

Other new features include a full-color touchscreen and a continuous printing capability. For batch manufacturers or those making large parts, the Palette 2 will detect when one filament runs out and automatically moves to the next spool, so that there’s no need to manually load new filament.

Beyond Palette 2

In addition to the Palette 2, Mosaic has also developed the Palette 2 Pro. Labelle explained the key differences between the two systems:

“The Palette 2 Pro is 20 percent faster to keep up with larger format printers or printers that are using .6mm or .8mm nozzles,” Labelle explained. “And it comes with a plethora of spare parts. The idea is that the user is using the printer to make money, so if something happens with it, we don’t want them to have to have downtime with their printers, so they have everything they would need to replace if something were to break off.”

The Palette 2 can still be purchased as an aftermarket accessory, but Mosaic is also bringing it to market as an installed feature in 3D printers from several brands: Dremel, MakerGear, Raise3D, Robo 3D, gCreate and MAKEiT.

Anyone who was impressed with the original Kickstarter will find that the newest versions of the Palette are much more affordable, due to the fact that Mosaic now supplies for mass manufacturing. The Palette 2 is now available at a preorder price of $499, while the Palette 2 Pro is available for $699.

To learn more about these products, visit the Mosaic Manufacturing website.


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