Although it’s not an idea that has yet trickled down to $200 printers drop-shipped from China, one of the most innovative ideas in the 3D printing world in the last few years is putting plastic down on a conveyor belt. Yes, MakerBot was doing it back in 2010, but we’re not going to talk about that. Printing on a conveyor belt instead of a static bed allows you to easily print multiples of an object autonomously, without any human interaction. If you’re really clever, you could rotate the hot end 45° and build a piece of plastic that is infinitely long, like the printer [Bill Steele] built, the Blackbelt, or ‘the CAD files might exist somewhere’ Printrbot infinite build volume printer.
At this year’s World Maker Faire, we didn’t see an infinite printer, but we did catch a glimpse of an idea that could reliably take 3D printers into production. It’s a Multiprinter Autonomous 3D Printer, designed and built by [Thomas Vagnini].
The idea of using 3D printers for production and manufacturing is a well-studied problem. Lulzbot has a heated room filled with printers they use to manufacture all their machines. Prusa’s manufacturing facility is similarly well-equipped. However, both of these setups require helper monkeys to remove a part from the bed and set the machine up for the next print.
Instead of a strictly manual process, [Thomas]’ machine uses a sort of cartridge-based system for the printing bed. The glass beds are stored in a cassette, and for the first print, the printer pulls a bed onto the heated build plate through a system of conveyors. When the print is finished, the part and the bed ar fed into a rotating cassette, where it can be removed by a tech, prepped for the next print, and placed back in the ‘bed feeder’. It’s a system that brings the manual intervention cycle time of a 3D printer down to zero. If you’re producing hundreds of parts, this will drastically speed up manufacturing.
While it is a relatively niche idea, this is a very well-designed machine. It’s all laser cut, uses core-XY mechanics, and with the right amount of tuning, it does exactly what it says it will do. It’s not for everybody, but that’s sort of the point of manufacturing parts on a 3D printer.