3D printers were never meant to be used for production. They’re not manufacturing machines, they’re prototyping machines. That doesn’t mean 3D printers can’t be used in a manufacturing context, it’s just very hard – you’d need someone manning a fleet of machines, or some sort of ‘automated build platform’ that won’t be invented for exactly fourteen years.
In the absence of someone paid to watch printers print, [Mark], [Robert], and [James] at tend.ai have created a way to manage a fleet of printers with a robot arm. It’s a robotic arm that automatically monitors the LCD on a rack full of 3D printers, plucks the finished prints off the bed, drops the parts in a box, and starts another print.
Tend.ai is in the business of cloud robotics, and have designed a system that takes any robotic arm, any webcam, and provides the backend for this robotic arm to – wait for it – tend to other machines. As a demo, it works well. Parts are picked up off of the machines, dropped into boxes, and another print run started.
As a tech demo for a cloud robotics platform, you can’t do much better than this. As a way to automate a fleet of 3D printers, I can only wonder how this robot arm system would work with large, flat printed parts. A robotic gripper could always be replaced with a spatula, I guess.
You can check out the demo and the ‘how they did it’ video below.
Continue reading “Automating 3D Printers With Robots”
Way back in 2010, Makerbot released the Automated Build Platform, a neat heated conveyor belt for the Cupcake or Thing-O-Matic that would spit parts out when a print was done. It’s a great invention if you need to produce 20 of something, and the perfect invention if you want to sit on a patent and not innovate anything ever.
You won’t need to wait until the year 2030 to get a device that automatically removes a print from a print bed. The folks at MatterHackers came up with an Automatic Print Ejector that removes a print in the most [Rube Goldberg]-ish way possible: with a boxing glove.
The Automatic Print Ejector is pretty much taken straight out of a [Buster Keaton] movie. It’s a series of scissor mechanisms with a 3D printed boxing glove on the end, driven by a stepper motor. When the print finishes, the boxing glove simply punches a print off the bed of a printer.
Does it work? It does, brilliantly. Check out the video below.
Continue reading “Automatic Print Ejector For All 3D Printers”
I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: if you’re using a 3D printer to make a few hundred identical plastic parts, you’re doing it wrong. That’s the place for traditional manufacturing methods such as injection molding or resin casting. If, however, you’re looking at printing a few dozen identical plastic parts, or even running a script to optimize your machine time, the current open source 3D printer world leaves one thing to be desired.
An Automated Build Platform
An Automated Build Platform is a fairly simple idea: put a conveyor belt on your heated bed, and when the print is done, send a command to drive a motor, dumping the newly printed part into a bin, The printer then begins the next part with a clean bed, and the days of doting over a 3D printer soon fade into the past.
For such a simple and useful idea, it’s surprising there hasn’t been much done with this idea in open source circles. There are, of course, problems both technical and legal, but hopefully nothing that should indefinitely derail anyone who would want to create the first open source automated build platform.
Continue reading “3D Printering: A Call for an Open Source Automated Build Platform”