3D Printer As Robot: The Functograph

A 3D printer is really a specialized form of robot. Sure, it isn’t exactly Data from Star Trek, but it isn’t too far from many industrial robots. Researchers from Meiji University made the same observation and decided to create a 3D printer that could swap a hot end for other types of robotic manipulators. They call their creation the Functgraph. (Video, embedded below.)

Some of the tasks the Functgraph can do including joining printed parts into an assembly, breaking support material, and more. The surprise twist is that — unlike traditional tool change schemes — the printer prints its own end effectors together with the print job and picks them up off the build plate.

The printer is a pretty stock CR-10 with two additions. There is a system on the X carriage to pick up a printed end effector, and there is also a tower on the side of the printer for dropping off an end-effector after use. The attachment point uses a barb so that pressing down mates the attachment arm to the part. Then raising the Z axis lifts the part off the build surface.

The team shows different techniques to use custom-shaped hooks to break away support, fold printed parts together, or remove parts from the build plate and relocate them.

We wonder if this would be better if you had a SCARA arm sitting next to a 3D printer, although we admit that might be less flexible in theory. Not that the idea of using two robots to print is totally new.


12 thoughts on “3D Printer As Robot: The Functograph

  1. This is extremely cool. It’s mode *so* much cooler by the fact that anyone of us in the 3D printer gang could have been doing this since like the beginnings of the Reprap project in 2008. It’s a great illustration of how new stuff can happen at any time, or not happen at all, and we should all take a shot at new ideas/projects, because if we don’t, they might not happen…

  2. While this is very cool, it relies engineering each effector. If you only had remote access to a 3d printer then this would be ideal. I could see this concept being useful for turning raw materals into functional probes to explore the surface of another planet.

    1. Indeed, its cool, novel, but rather impractical and wasteful for the most part.
      Still what might be done with the idea more usefully who can tell. Not sure most of the budget 3d printers are really stiff enough to do the end effector bits either.

      1. Pushing this idea to even more extremes it sounds like the sort of thinking/testing/practice you’d want to be doing if you were trying to have a self-replicating/self-building factory on Mars/an asteroid, that builds itself and it’s own tools, to build more of itself, etc.

        1. Indeed, I can see where this concept could find a niche, even be a good solution. Though I think for those sort of niches real tool changing with ‘active’ tools is probably well within budget.. Might well still print assemble jigs and the end effector of the “tool” – 3d print flextures and warping to perform useful tasks with more active control etc. A two or three cams (probably more shell like spiral gearish objects) around the latching mechanism to force the tool to bend/rotate the desired amount

          Also probably better off with the multi axis robot arm style base machine, probably on rail(s) – still a 3d printer, but more able to print with the “right” geometry – conical/vertical layer printing where its the best thing for the part. Also able to remove part from the tooling fixtures and place outside the build volume itself.

          Don’t get me wrong for being slightly down on it, I do like it, its a neat idea and I’ll look forward to developments of it. But for almost all possible users this 3D print factory concept is just a waste, print the parts and human assemble – you have to take it off the machine yourself anyway, and not printing the jigs as well is both cheaper and gives you greater build volume to stack extra/spare parts… Its more an intersting talking/thinking on point for the future than practical in its own right.

    1. I was thinking the same thing – it’s a shame to see such a cool, ingenious and meticulous process stymied by a poor illustration. Not only do the cuts make it difficult to watch what’s actually happening, they make it seem as though the process received external help.

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