3D Printing + Five Axes = 5D Printing?

3D-printed parts made with five-axis technology are stronger and use less material.

You’re probably familiar with 3D printing, and you may have heard of 4D printing, in which an object transforms over time upon printing. What about 5D printing? No, we’re not getting into printing objects in n-dimensional space—not yet anyway. In the case of Mitsubishi Electric Research Labs (MERL), 5D printing refers to the use of five-axis technology to 3D print objects from multiple directions.

Almost all 3D printers today can be described as three-axis machines that print parts one horizontal layer at a time. The notorious problem with this approach is the resulting weaknesses that occur at the lines of adhesion between layers.

Researchers at MERL have used a trunnion table as a print bed to create a five-axis 3D printer. (Image courtesy of MERL.)

Researchers at MERL have used a trunnion table as a print bed to create a five-axis 3D printer. (Image courtesy of MERL.)

To get around this problem, William Yerazunis, the senior principal research scientist at MERL, incorporated a trunnion table into a 3D printer as its print bed, enabling the machine to print parts as a simultaneous five-axis machine. According to Yerazunis, this allowed the device to print parts that were three to five times stronger with 25 percent less material than the same parts printed in the conventional three-axis fashion.

In the video below, you’ll see the five-axis setup, as well as the pressure test applied to a traditional 3D-printed part and its 5D-printed counterpart.

This is not the first time that a five-axis 3D printer has been built. In fact, while many approaches to 5D printing involve the use of a robotic arm or five-axis print head, a student at the University of Oslo previously crafted a very similar setup to that developed by MERL. Rather than use an off-the-shelf trunnion table, however, Øyvind Kallevik Grutle created his own 3D-printed rotary print bed.

There are other solutions for interlayer adhesion in extrusion 3D printing as well. For instance, Essentium Materials and Cosine Additive have partnered to bring thermal welding to extrusion technologies, suggesting that their 3D-printed parts have almost the same strength as the printing material in its pure state.

The process implemented by MERL and Grutle, however, seems to be pretty simple in comparison. The biggest difficulty may be creating the software for operating the rotary table. Fortunately, Grutle has said that he plans to release his own program to the open-source community. We may need to keep an eye on his GitHub page for the day that he does. Otherwise, his 114-page master’s thesis provides all of the details here.