Interest in open source powder 3D printer?


I'm not a complete noob, as I was once employed as a manager for a large 3D printer company; however, I'm not an engineer... My quest is to find those interested in developing a powder based open source 3D printer.

I understand (at least I think I do) that Octoprint is a GCode generating system and that a powder printer would (likely) require developing one or more new plugins. An OctoPi controlled powder printer might be possible? There are all sorts of hurdles of course - print head, binder, et cetera - but I'd be very interested in getting such a project off the ground.

I'm aware of the open source powders and binders, of course. And the research that has been done previously in open source powder printers. Octoprint seems like such a vibrant and supportive community, I thought I'd start here.

Any thoughts (besides "impossible" and "you're insane")?

Oh, by the end of the summer, I should have at least one, and maybe two, zcorp z310's on the East Coast of the US that could be used for research and development.

OctoPrint is a 3d printer host that can be controlled through the network. It sends (premade) gcode to the printer. It can be extended using plugins to include a pared-down slicer.

If the printer "speaks" gcode, then probably, yes. Though OctoPrint is mostly geared towards fdm printers, and some aspects of powder printers might require special functionality that OctoPrint does not offer by default (but could be added with a plugin).

Thanks for the reply, FoV.

I think that GCode could be suitable for inkjet powder printers. For sure DIY SLS (laser) printers have been done. Binder printers use a wide, inkjet print head, with multiple jets. I did find this thread that makes it sound like GCode could be adapted... Maybe that work could be turned into an OctoPrint Module?

This 16 year old kid (waaay smarter than I'll ever be) developed his own DIY SLS printer:

The thing that attracted me to OctoPrint is that it appears to have a good community, it is open source, good features, and modularity.

So, I'm trying to find other like-minded people who would like to build such a printer and then open source the plans for all.

I think it's a neat idea, but from what I've heard from college students that have access to such machines they are extremely messy because of the powder. I'm sure you could mitigate that, but I bet that's why there aren't too many already existing projects. The one you found looks very well thought out. Like fieldOfView mentioned, if it's running something that supports gcode it would take minimal effort in order to get it to work with OctoPrint. There have been plugins that allow control of a laser cutter, so I would assume it would be a similar approach for this type of system.

The biggest difference I can think of is turning on/off a laser instead of heating up a hot end.

That gcode is not something slicers like Cura or Prusa Slicer readily produce. My guess is it has been hand-crafted. This does not have to be a big problem, but there are parts in OctoPrint that eg check for temperatures that such a printer likely won't report. So some work would need to be done.

Thanks, jneilliii. Powder can be a messy problem, but that issue is far out weighed by the advantages, I think.

One of the issues that I can think of is that an inkjet printhead is unlike a single point fdm nozzle or an sls laser; an inkjet printhead has multiple "nozzles" (like easily 100+) that have to be coordinated as the printhead moves across the build platform. So, although the tool path might be easy enough, I'd imagine there's some work to do to get the jetting coordinated.

Xaar ( is one company that specializes in producing industrial printheads that can be used for 3D powder printing. They seem to be forthcoming with information about their technology, much more so that HP or Epson.

I'm not sure what you mean when saying "that gcode". You are refering to the GCode produced by commercial inkjets?

I was referring to the gcode in the page you linked to above:

A blunt question that needs asking (forgive me, I am dutch, and we are known to be "direct"): Open Source is mostly a "do-ocracy". What would you bring to the table?

Excellent question! Just like my Dutch friends... Well, I bring enthusiasm, project management skills, connections in the art, academic, and 3D printing worlds, and, potentially, some money and space to do such a project. My motivation is to see new tools get into the hands of artists. Powder printing has tremendous potential, but is/has been very expensive and proprietary; many of the basic patents are now expired, so the barriers are a bit lower. I'd like to see a community grow and support such a project.

While I appreciate the enthusiasm, and I certainly don't want to discourage you from dreaming and sharing your ideas, I think you are in the wrong place.

Your biggest hurdles are going to be facing are the hardware and mechanics of binded powder printing, and to a lesser extend slicing software for that type of printing. OctoPrint is neither of those. The gcode hosting that OctoPrint does at its core is the least of your problems.

Though many people here are open source and 3d printing enthusiasts, they are - in my experience - not the type of people that would invest their time into starting such a large project from the ground up. We're frankly all busy keeping our own printers working and writing software and plugins to solve relatively small problems.

Have you considered the reprap community? Even there you would need to show a somewhat working prototype consisting of easily obtainable parts to get people enthusiastic enough to "bite" and join your bandwagon.

Okay. Thanks for the advice. I appreciate it.

I don't speak for all of "us" here, so by all means, stick around.

OctoPrint is a g-code "passthrough". If you have a powder printer or are doing PLA, I doubt OctoPrint wouild care.

You problem is going to be designing the printer

If such a printer could be open source depends more on economics then technology. For example could you typical developer afford to buy the parts and experiment? Could he even afford the powder?

Typically with open source projects, they way they get started in one person gets something working. Then others what potential and join. Rarely are projects stared by a committee.

Do you have at least a drwaing of a printer you would like to build? A list of parts? Once you get to that stage you can ask for help and get specific answers

But you have to have at least some CAD files on github or something like that.

Right. I understand there is a lot of work to do - both hardware and software. Essentially, I want to take a z310, make the bins large enough to print a 10" dinner plate, add an industrial print head, run the printer on a Raspberry Pi, and develop open source materials. Thanks for your input.

For what it's worth, I've just finished a contract with which uses gcode and OctoPrint and metallic-based powders and a laser to 3D print metal parts. From what I understand, they did not use common slicers to get the gcode, however. They were using a Smoothieboard the last time I saw. There was a tool in Smoothieware which was something like A or B which was a wiper which placed a smooth layer of powder on top. There was another tool which conveyored that powder into the chamber itself.

I would say—as has been suggested—that getting the object sliced for this would be a fair part of the work involved. Most powder-based printers are expensive, messy and nobody really wants you to have access to it. So expect that fewer people here within this space will have that sort of experience. The average powder-based printer has a huge rectangular vat of powder. In the case of OCM they conveyed enough powder into the build area and then used a wiper.

Personally, I think I would rather build a laser/metal printer than a powder-based plastic part printer. In this case, the equivalent of the "binder" is just the power from the laser that is sinterizing the powder into metal.

Also, these powder mediums aren't in great supply like you might find for PLA filament, for example.