Purpose - To shift from rapid prototyping (RP) to agile fabrication by broadening the material selection, e.g. using ceramics, hence improving the properties (e.g. mechanical properties) of fused deposition modeling (FDM) products. Design/methodology/approach - This paper presents the development of a novel extrusion system, based on the FDM technology. The new set-up, consisting of a mini-extruder mounted on a high-precision positioning system, is fed with bulk material in granulated form, instead that with the more common filament. Findings - Previous research showed that the applications of new materials with specific characteristics in a commercial FDM system are limited by the use of intermediate precursors, i.e. a filament. The new design described in this paper overcomes the problem thanks to the new feeding system. Research limitations/implications - The work presented in this paper is only the starting point for further development. The new system design was tested and encouraging improvements of the final product were achieved. However, several parameters, e.g. size of the feeding granules, still need to be optimized. Practical implications - This configuration opens up opportunities for the use of wider range of materials, making the FDM to become a viable alternative manufacturing process for specialty products. Originality/value - The mini-extruder deposition system developed in this study exploits the advantages of the RP technologies: ability to shorten the product design and development time; suitability for automation; and ability to build many geometrically complex shapes. Hence, applying the described technology, it will be possible to manufacture customer-driven product with important cost and time (from design to final product) savings.
Rapid Prototyping Journal, 2005, Vol 11, Issue 4, p. 214-220