1) Stepper-Driven Syringe Pump As the name implies, a Stepper-Driven Syringe Pump (SDSP) uses an electric motor to push a plunger down a syringe barrel. This is sometimes called “Direct Drive.” Here we have various options. The “Fab@ Home Model 1 Syringe Tool” uses a pricey linear stepper. Other current models use the more standard rotational stepper with some extra mechanics like a gear train. Early examples of this approach include the Fab@Home Model 2 Syringe Tool, the above mentioned syringe pump by Adrian Bowyer, Zach Hoeken’s Frostruder MK1, and Viktor’s (VMX) Syringe Tool. More recently there’s David’s Paste Extruder and the Universal Paste Extruder by RichRap. The concept is simple enough! Want to empty a syringe? Just push the plunger down with a motor! This simplicity probably accounts for the popularity of this approach. Brute simplicity has some benefits, but there are some major drawbacks as well. The first drawback of syringe designs is that the extruder becomes very bulky. The total extruder height needs to be at least twice the syringe’s length to make room for the extended plunger, then add even more for the mechanics. A 60cc syringe with the plunger extended is 30cm long. Add in the extra drive bits and the nozzle, and your extruder can easily end up being 40cm high. Various approaches have been used to slim down the design. For example, RichRap’s Universal Paste Extruder pulls a belt over the plunger with a geared stepper motor. Unfortunately its tiny 10cc syringe is barely enough to print a cookie! BonsaiBrain has produced a 20cc version, but to use his own words: The construction is quite monstrous! It requires so much torque that a fourth gear is needed. But the syringe capacity is an important factor. 60cc is one of the largest standard syringe volumes, but it takes 40cc of ceramic clay just to print a
photo by Bre Pettis
small coffee cup. Anything larger requires a more capacious syringe or multiple syringes, meaning a vastly larger and more complex extruder. One could try swapping out syringes in mid-print or move the syringe out of the extruder by design (something I will discuss), but that’s not the most workable solution. Another vexing problem is that syringe designs vary a lot by manufacturer. Any design that depends on a specific syringe probably won’t work with other sizes or brands.