Hybrid 3D printer robots are making the manufacturing of European industrial components 40% faster
They're a hybrid between a robot and a 3D printer and are building complex structures in diverse materials, such as a resin or aluminium.
European scientists working on the Kraken Project in Zaragoza in Spain are looking into how and to what extent the 3D robots can improve the efficiency and competitiveness of the European automotive and construction industry.
Researchers say the technology has been designed to make the manufacturing of industrial components 40% faster.
The robot can create small or big metal structures to an accuracy of 0.1 millimetres thanks to a laser scanner and developers say the technology can easily be scaled up.
"We can work on big surfaces, on areas of 20 meters in length, 4 meters wide and 4 meters high. Size is not a limitation to the technology, " says Iván Monzón Catalán, an industrial engineer at Aitiip Technology Centre
"The working space we are able to create is determined by the size of the bridge crane, but our platform can be installed on a bigger bridge crane, or another bridge crane without columns, or simply on a mobile robot".
Always controlled in real-time, the robot can also print structures in resin, in the form of a polyurethane paste, at a deposition rate of around 120 kilos per hour.
"We can print a complete 3D structure, but we can also create shapes by extracting material from the surfaces," says Catalán.
"This versatility allows us to build very complex structures, and with very variable geometries".
Semi-finished and completed parts are constantly monitored for early failure detection, in a bid to improve efficiency and reduce material waste.
Researchers are now looking at other ways to enrich the system.
"We are already brainstorming ideas about how to add artificial intelligence to the system," says Berta Gonzalvo an industrial engineer and research director at Aitiip.
"We are also working to enrich it with digital replicas and also with new human-machine interfaces and we are also looking at a very important exploitation opportunity; the inclusion of this technology in other existing machine tools".
Originally developed for the automotive and construction industries, researchers say they are now thinking wider.
"The Aeronautical sector is very interested in this solution. The shipyard industry can use this technology to build ships and yachts. Also the railway sector and the renewable energy sector; for the construction of wind turbine blades," says José Antonio Dieste, a mechanical engineer at Aitiip technology centre and the Kraken project coordinator.
"At the end of the day, this system is very versatile and easy to replicate".
Scientists say the system requires 90% less floor working space than other existing technologies and it is pretty much ready to get on the market.