Embed Hardware Into 3D Prints, But Not In The Way You’re Thinking

[Christopher Helmke] is doing fantastic work in DIY systems for handling small hardware like fasteners, and that includes robotic placement of hardware into 3D prints. Usually this means dropping nuts into parts in mid-print so that the hardware is captive, but that’s not really the story here.

The really inventive part we want to highlight is the concept of reducing packaging and labor. Instead of including a zip-lock bag of a few bolts, how about embedding the bolts into a void in the 3D print, covered with a little snip-out retainer? Skip ahead to 1:54 in the video to see exactly what we mean. It’s a pretty compelling concept that we hope sparks a few ideas in others.

As clever as that concept is, the rest of the video is also worth a watch because [Christopher] shows off a DIY system that sits on top of his 3D printer and takes care of robotically placing the hardware in mid-print. He talks all about the challenges of such a system. It’s not perfect (yet), but seeing it in action is very cool.

We’ve recently seen a lot of fascinating stuff when it comes to [Christopher Helmke]’s automated handling of fasteners and similar hardware. His system makes rapid and accurate dispensing of bolts look easy, and his work on using compressed air to zip pieces around seems effective.

9 thoughts on “Embed Hardware Into 3D Prints, But Not In The Way You’re Thinking

  1. Do really like the concept behind the mounting hardware held captive in a pocket on the part rather than a bag. Should be relatively often possible to do as well, as more often than not there is lots of dead space inside a part that it isn’t structurally required or worth hollowing out for no other reason.

    Also fit something like this to the toolchanging motion platform as suggested and that could be really handy.

    1. Tape works if you have the time for manual effort on every run. However something like this could for instance be fitted to the infinity belt printer type concepts for ‘mass production’ of a part its not worth making an injection mould of but you need to make more than a handful at a time.

  2. The mechanism seems fine, it’s just being used improperly. If each screw had a dedicated funnel to fall into that’s the same size as the air hose it comes from, it would work flawlessly. Expecting multiple irregular shapes to pile up neatly when dropped into a hole together will never work.

    1. It’s WAY too over engineered…. if the platform is for creating 1 off prints here and there with different placement of parts for each… then OK 👍. But, from my observation, he is making many of the things. Mass producing them? We have factories that have automated such processes already and in very ingenious manners. Imagine Coca Cola having a moving part like that which shifts for every action ..he’ll no. They have a specific automated process for a specific function. The labeler doesn’t shift mid run to roll aluminum. Each is done with a specialized machine/ tool.

      What I could see work though is to build a system that provides the ability to fulfill a proscess and some kind of jig/tool. A carrier to grab it, replace it. The can be printed out … specific ones for that proscess.

  3. Pretty nice ideas and execution!

    Why don’t you make the print head carry an additional hose? It can be to the side and even ending a few mm higher (so it doesn’t get in the way when printing) Have a lightweight hose in a bowden-type setup?
    For inserting a part: Pause the print, move the head to the desired position + offset, shoot a screw through the hose, and continue printing?

    But as others have mentioned…
    You could print a slot for screws, fill them afterwards and seal with a tape. This allows for checking and correction before placing the tape. This is similar amount of waste.
    With the above setup, checking and correction is even more challenging.

    I applaud the effort and ideas. But I don’t understand at which scale and size this automation will pay off. You would need to assemble thousands of kits before one would safe time and effort!

    1. I disagree. If you’re printing a bunch of kits and sticking them in boxes, this guarantees each kit has the right hardware, without having to double check. If someone accidentally forgets to pack a bag of screws, that’s many minutes of cost to replace them, and possibly days of waiting for a part in the mail; the more forgetful one is, the more time this saves. Maybe not many man-hours, but definitely a lot of shipping hours. Personally, I’m a huge fan of automation of processes like this.

  4. I think the problem is more the slot in the part he’s dropping the screws in, angle the slit in the 3d STL so that it acts like a slide and doesn’t bounce, and slow the drop speed of the screws with a bit of friction near the end of the pipe. Looks like a tuning issue.

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