One of the trends we increasingly see as additive manufacturing becomes industrialized is an increased focus on large format additive manufacturing. While this can of course be achieved with large machines, especially those using FDM, robotic arms offer a number of advantages for users. Robotic arms not only allow large-scale printing thanks to the long reach of the arms, but also more freedom thanks to their multiple axes as well as the fact that the resulting parts often do not require support structures. Although there are only a handful of manufacturers creating the robotic arms, they have been adapted by 3D printing manufacturers for polymer and metal AM solutions. In the following list, in no particular order, we take a closer look at what is currently on the market, both for original weapons and for adapted solutions.
Original Robotic Weapon Manufacturers
The German company KUKA is undoubtedly one of the leaders in the automation market, offering robots that allow the electronics, automotive and healthcare industries to simplify their manufacturing processes. KUKA develops solutions adaptable to additive manufacturing. It is therefore not surprising to find the KUKA brand on many robotic 3D printers, whether to design metal, plastic or even concrete parts. One example is the KR QUANTEC range of robotic arms, which offer machines with reach from 2,671 to 3,904 mm and load capacity from 120 to 300 kilos.
The ABB Group is a multinational company that produces robotic arms, including those used for 3D printing. Their robotics portfolio is diverse with different types of industrial robots to fill consumer needs. Their RobotStudio® the program is the world’s most popular offline programming and simulation tool for robotic applications. According to the company, with its solution, users can unlock flexibility and improve productivity in their business to the next level. They are even able to design robots to meet their own unique needs, especially in additive manufacturing. As you will see later in the list, ABB six-axis industrial robot is used by Massive Dimension, a company that works on sustainable development development in the 3D printing industry.
Comau is an Italian industrial automation and robotics company. The company develops systems, products and services compatible with Industry 4.0. In particular, its portfolio includes a full family of robots, including robotic arm solutions. Since 1978, Comau has been manufacturing these machines with the aim of integrating and improving innovative applications in all industrial sectors. There are several robotic arms, and they differ in their payload capacities. Yet they leverage IoT and AI technology to operate autonomously.
Third-party 3D printing companies using these solutions
CEAD is a Dutch company based in Delf that develops large-scale 3D printers. This company stands out by offering robotic solutions that combine printing and CNC milling processes in a single process. Another solution is the AM Flexbot, a robotic solution for large-scale 3D printing. Siemens Sinumerik controllers are responsible for controlling the Comau robot arm, thus requiring no robot controller. This controller can control 31 axes at the same time as it moves along its path. Your AM Flexbot can be expanded with additional functions such as a rotary table, additional robots or other production processes such as CNC milling. It is the perfect choice for a custom solution with a specific application.
Weber Additive DXR Series
The German company Weber Additive, dedicated to the development of different manufacturing technologies, also offers robotic arm solutions for 3D printing. Weber’s DXR robotic system includes a high-quality extruder capable of 3D printing. The extruder is powered by a 6-axis industrial robot that allows it to move with precision. Its robotic arm based on the manufacturer Kuka and its AE series extruders are adapted to the needs of its customers to provide the most optimal results. These systems offer great advantages, such as 3D printing with 6-axis kinematics, variable angle of the build head or overprinting on existing parts, among others. You can take a look at the solution in the video below:
Hyperion Robotics’ robotic arm
Founded in 2019 in Helsinki, Hyperion Robotics is a company specializing in construction. He uses additive manufacturing to design more affordable structures, wanting to make the market more sustainable and above all, more automated. To do this, it relies on KUKA robots on which it mounts an extruder capable of depositing Hyperion Robotics material. It is a special concrete mix that uses a reduced amount of cement thanks to recycled waste components. He has also designed his own software that allows him to work with any robot. In terms of applications, the Finnish company has already built decorative elements, structures imitating coral reefs and energy infrastructures.
Massive Dimension, as their name no doubt suggests, is a manufacturer of large format 3D extruders and complete solutions, including turnkey robotic print cells. Specifically, the company was founded with the goal of contributing to sustainable solutions to reduce waste on the planet. Currently, Massive Dimension’s solutions are focused on 3D printing of polymer pellets. For their robot cells, they include six-axis industrial robotic arms from ABB. When combined with ABB 3D Printing Powerpac software, users have access to an understandable workflow for 3D printing pellets. The company notes that their robotic arms have been custom designed for robotic printing, including large format printing thanks to a build volume of 3ft x 5ft x 5ft. Moreover, these cells can also be customized to meet the individual needs of each user.
Orbital Composites aims to disrupt the 3D printing industry. They believe robotics is the answer to the limitations facing industry, such as scale, speed, strength and design. Their Orbital S, the first robotic 3D printer designed on an industrial scale, was launched to solve these problems. The impressive robot has a maximum speed of 2 m/s, a maximum payload of 10 kg and a maximum reach of 1.1 m. The build platform is 1m x 1m x 1m, allowing for relatively large end-use rooms. In addition, the user has the choice of materials. It uses the Kuka KR10 R1100 robotic arm; Kuka is an official partner of the company.
Dyze Design and Pulsar
Pulsar is a state-of-the-art, high-speed, large-scale plastic pellet extruder. It was designed with one goal in mind: to 3D print large parts as quickly and as cheaply as possible. Pulsar is compatible with robotic arms for 3D printing and is capable of producing up to 500 mm3/s (2.5 kg/h) of material. It can also be used with large nozzles from 1.00mm to 5.00mm. Finally, Pulsar is ready for all environmental conditions. The water cooling loop ensures that the entire system is at a constant temperature. With an additional heat shield, Pulsar can withstand a 200°C environment. This makes the machine compatible with plastic materials such as PEEK, Ultem and PSU.
This company combines additive manufacturing, prefabrication and large-scale digital technology. Thanks to their patented technology, it allows the team of designers and architects to imagine, compose and finally build these structures that were previously impossible with traditional construction methods. An example of a project they have done is building a 3D printed pavilion in which they used KUKA robotic technology. Combining robots with 3D printing allowed the architects and designers of the Gould Turnes Group they collaborated with to tackle not only the construction of the final structure, but also the design process from start to finish. The 3D printing process applied to KUKA robots is a great combination as it enables the production of precise, lightweight and economical components from a variety of materials.
At this point, if you’re interested in WAAM technology, you’ve almost certainly heard of MX3D. The Dutch company has made waves for its creation of a fully 3D printed metal bridge which is currently located in the center of Amsterdam. This, among other large-scale metal 3D printing feats, has made it a popular choice across many industries. And the company uses robotic arms for its solutions. Specifically, MX3D uses an 8-axis ABB industrial robotics system in its M1 metal additive manufacturing system, enabling the creation of medium to large scale metal parts. To make the process easier, the company also offers MetalXL, software that controls its WAAM-based systems, ensuring the part is manufactured as planned, controlling everything from design to monitoring during the actual print.
Continuous Composites was recently selected by NASA to produce open isogrid composite structures with low coefficient of thermal expansion (CTE) for space applications, using its patented continuous fiber 3D printing (CF3D) Technology. This printer combines high-performance composite materials with fast-curing thermosetting resins. They say this will demonstrate the printer’s ability to produce consistent, high-quality output with excellent accuracy and precision. The printer is configurable and scalable so it can be applied to projects of different sizes. They turned to Comau for their robotic arm needs.
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