The trade-off of an affordable 3D printer is that they’re usually small and can only produce small objects. To make something big, you have to break it down into smaller parts first. But Autodesk has come up with a better approach: a 3D printer with multiple heads that all work together to churn out massive creations.
Called Project Escher, the hardware is more like an assembly line of 3D printers than a single machine. Instead of passing an object from one print head to the next when its job is done, the printheads can intelligently work together to speed up the creation of an object, or each head can work on different areas so that larger prototypes can be produced in one run.
Project Escher’s printheads are modular too and can be swapped out for different purposes. So while four of them are busy printing away, the fifth could be swapped for a milling head that removes support structures or other 3D-printed components that are only necessary for the printing process. One of the printheads could even be swapped for a robot hand that repositions a part or automatically removes it from the machine once the printing process is complete.
For now the project appears to be an Autodesk research initiative more than anything, but it’s a brilliant approach to 3D printing that takes advantage of the components in more affordable machines, while overcoming the size limitations that often plague cheaper hardware.