January 9, 2018

Precision Meets Versatility in 3D Printing: The Aerostruder Tool Head

What do you get when you combine E3D’s popular Titan Aero Extruder and Hot End with our peerless design standards and quality manufacturing? You get the next generation of versatile, user-friendly LulzBot tool heads that can now print with BOTH solid and flexible material – the TAZ Aerostruder, and the Mini Aerostruder.

Find the Aerostruder tool heads here:

TAZ Aerostruder   Mini Aerostruder

 

Although many people had a hand in the creation of the Aerostruder, Brent Imhoff, Product Specialist, was the Project Manager of the conception and proposal of this exciting new tool head:

Q: Why did you specifically choose to use E3D’s Titan Aero hot end to create this tool head?

Brent: Because we are 100% committed to Free Software, Libre Innovation, and Open Source Hardware development, we provide the source files for all of our parts and all of our components, which allowed our customers to experiment with different types of hot ends. It really wasn’t a conscious choice to choose E3D; it was a conscious choice to choose the best reviewed and reported hot end that our customers have experimented with.

The Aerostruder Tool Head on a LulzBot Mini

Q: Why is this a must-have printing component for 3D printing enthusiasts?

Brent: Our standard extruder works extremely well, but this (the Aerostruder) will allow you to print both solid and flexible material without having to buy an additional tool head. Also, the Titan Aero is reliable. It’s been tested out in the field for over a year, so it’s going to help things be more versatile for our stock machines moving forward.

Q: What is the most significant aspect of this project for you?

Brent: As a 100% Free Software and Open Source Hardware company, we strive to partner with other companies that practice Libre Innovation. While E3D has been a strong, positive force in the 3D Printing community, their designs were not available under free licenses. After working with them for a matter of months, they chose to release their design files under free licenses as Open Source Hardware. So, in my opinion, the most exciting part is that we are expanding the Open Source Hardware community. That’s the big thing here, getting more technology out there into people’s hands. I’m looking forward to it personally because my home printers do not have the ability to print flexible material right now, so I’m planning on buying one of these when they do come out.

Once the proposal was approved for production, the Aerostruder was given to Research and Development specialists, Tyler Utley and Joshua West. It was then their job to transform the Aerostruder from a paper concept into a fully functioning reality for both the LulzBot TAZ and LulzBot Mini 3D Printers:

Q: What was the design process for the Aerostruder like? Did you encounter any difficulties?

Tyler: This particular design process wasn’t too bad. The #1 modification people do to LulzBot 3D Printers is throw an E3D hot end on it, so we wanted to go with the E3D hot ends. The Titan Aero was able to print flexible and hard materials, so that’s a big plus. Pretty much all we had to do was design a mount and a fan shroud for it and E3D did the wiring and hardware. 

Josh: The only problem we found was just space – we had a very small amount of space to work with for making the blower shroud, but we still had to make it big enough so it wouldn’t be touching the heater block.

Q: How did the creative process differ for this tool head as opposed to other projects you’ve worked on?

Tyler: Until the Aero, all of our tool heads have had cooling on one or two sides, but now it’s all the way around. Full 360-degree cooling will give you really clean parts. Cooling helps with bridging (building a bridge of filament across two points) so it doesn’t sag across. You can make more elaborate parts.

Aerostruder Tool Head and Prints

Q: Why do you think our customers will want to own this new tool head?

Tyler: It’s a compact tool head that prints both hard and flexible materials with E3D’s hot ends – everybody loves E3D.

Josh: Better print quality for sure. It’s half the size of the old tool head - more lightweight. The heavier a tool head is, the harder it is to move the tool head around. If it’s lightweight you can print faster but still get good quality prints.

Finally, functional prototypes were assigned to Nick Prust, Technical Support Supervisor, and his team for evaluation and feedback:

Q: What was your role in this creative process?

Nick: I do the testing before the customer gets there. We look at functionality: is it working, can it be abused a little bit and still work? That’s what tech support is all about – we abuse these systems, the tool heads, the printers...we tear them apart and put them back together to see what we can break. That’s what we have been doing with the tool heads. It’s kind of fun...destruction is fun.

Q: Can you describe your initial reaction to the Aerostruder tool head? 

Nick: When I first plugged that thing in and got a print out of it, I was amazed. The quality of print was just like…. wow! Big difference between the stock tool head and the Aerostruder… it’s awesome.  I switched out the filament from solid to flexible right after one another and it printed just fine. That’s exciting. It’s crazy easy to switch them out.

Q: When you say “quality,” how exactly do you measure that?

Nick: Artifacts on the prints, layer evenness, smoothness – I know you’re dealing with layers, but it seems to be a lot smoother on the prints done by the new ones (Aerostruder) than on the old ones. The quality is way better.

Q: As the head of tech support, what are the most frequent issues that our customers seem to run into with hot ends or tool heads? Do you see this tool as helping alleviate any of those issues?

Nick: Clogs have been an issue. I’ve noticed a lot less clogging in the Aero due to the design changes. It has better cooling and a more robust idler. It’s more compact, which means less weight on the X-axis and less wavy prints... less weight means a longer life span of the printer in that axis as well. No more adjusting in the Z-axis for the droop in the center of that axis.

Q: Is this a tool head that you would like to own for your own printer?

Nick: Oh, yes. I’ve got two (LulzBot) Minis at home, and I’m ready to upgrade to an Aerostruder as soon as we release them. It’s a beautiful design, it’s a beautiful hot end, and it prints incredibly well.