3D Printer Head Designed to Print Thermoplastic Powder: The Phoenix Head

At a Glance

  • 3D printer head capable of using polymer or thermoplastic powder to print 3D objects by melt extrusion techniques
  • Despite general appearances, the JHead hotend is designed specifically for powder (unlike any other 3D printer) – which allows the printer to use recycled and/or experimental materials
  • Does not require machining


Extrusion-based 3D printing is among the most widespread additive manufacturing techniques, with users spanning from DIY hobbyists to industrial manufacturing companies. The widespread adoption of this advanced manufacturing technique can be attributed to the low-cost and straightforward method of printing compared to the more advanced printing techniques (e.g. stereolithography, laser sintering, polymer jetting, etc.). Application of extrusion-based 3D printing techniques has enabled the rapid and customized production of 3D objects ranging from art to force-sensing technologies.

A common extrusion-based additive manufacturing method is fused filament fabrication (FFF), in which a thermoplastic filament is heated and passed through a printer head to create a 3D printed object by layering the extrudate in computer-specified shapes. The materials compatible with FFF are mostly thermoplastics, which must be processed into filament and spooled before use in FFF, a process that can be difficult and time-consuming even with specialized equipment.

To date, the two foremost examples of extrusion- based 3D printing from a pellet feedstock rather than a filament feed- stock, have been demonstrated by big area additive manufacturing (BAAM) techniques and Titan Robotics’ Atlas printer series. Titan’s Atlas printer series can be modified to print production scale projects from thermoplastic pellets, and contains a build volume of 30′′ x 30′′ x 45′′. However, the industrial scale of the BAAM techniques and the Atlas printers is not conducive to laboratory scale use. Thus, bench-top pellet extruders capable of printing less material have been fabricated such as, Direct3D and the Rich Rap Universal Pellet Extruder (RRUPE).

Although these two pellet extruders increases the variety of materials that can be printed and are capable of printing smaller parts on the order of 200 mm3 or less, they still do not allow for 3D printing of material feedstock that is not in the form of pellets. This limitation of pellet extruders further restricts which thermoplastic materials can be 3D printed and presents an obstacle to printing novel material feedstock.


Researchers at Colorado State University developed and tested a bench-top PME printer head, wherein each part of the printer head was systematically investigated and modified to gain a fundamental understanding of the engineering design principles needed to fabricate a PME printer head. The final version of the PME printer head is able to successfully 3D print from a myriad of thermoplastic powder build materials (PLA, HIPS, ABS). Printing by PME was also shown to minimally affect the viscoelastic properties of the material when compared to those of the FFF printed parts. The PME print method reduces the time needed for the processing of 3D printing build materials, presenting the opportunity to provide a platform on which it is possible to rapidly prototype a myriad of thermoplastic materials for 3D printing.


  • Ability to use experimental materials
    • Reduce amount of filament needed to screen materials
  • Reduce cycle time from benchtop experiments and plastics to 3D print
  • Progress additive manufacturing field forward in terms of material functionalities
  • Can use recycled material
    • Reduce plastic waste from failed prints and normal filament spooling processes
  • Reduce need for separate extruder instrument
  • Does not require machining
  • Benchtop size


  • Experimental polymer/material prototyping
  • Home Hobbyists recycling 3D prints or plastics
  • Consumer printer to reduce need on extruders and filament spinners
Last Updated: October 2022

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