Large-Scale Rapid Prototyping Robots: Industrial Robot Arm Extruders and Building-Scale 3D Printers

Large Rapid Prototyping Robots

Over the years I've been keeping an informal list of large rapid prototyping systems. I'd like to take a moment to share some of these, including: big 3-axis systems that print plastic, sand, or cement; large robot arms with extruders and milling bits; and large industrial arms for bending metal and assembling modular structures. This list is woefully incomplete, but it provides some fun eye candy. Enjoy!

 

Big 'Ole 3-Axis Systems: 3D Printers (SDM and FDM) & Milling Machines

 

There are numerous examples of scaled-up 3-axis systems -- with workspaces ranging from a cubic meter to a few cubic meters: Grass Roots Engineering, D-Shape fusing sand (video), Le BigRep, modified ShopBots, etc.

Giant 3D printer Giant 3D printer Le BigRep

Gantry  CNC systems aren't exactly new.  They've been around for a LONG time, and are starting to show up in home shops and hackerspaces across the country (ie. ShopBots with their 3.7m x 1.5m workspace).  However, this giant 5-axis CNC from EEW ProTec is in an entirely other class!  It has a workspace up to 151m x 9m x 4.25m -- more than 5700 m3:

Giant Milling Machine

Frankly, I find these kinda boring... so let's quickly move along. 

 

 

Building-Scale 3-Axis 3D Printers (SDM) Using Concrete:

 

Behrokh Khoshnevis (prof at USC) gave a talk at TEDxOjai about his work on using rapid prototyping techniques for home construction -- a technique dubbed "Contour Crafting."  This work, funded by Caterpillar, has also appeared in the NYT and PopSci.

Concrete / Cement 3D printer  Concrete / Cement 3D printer

Concrete / Cement 3D printer Concrete / Cement 3D printer Concrete / Cement 3D printer

I'm not exactly a construction expert, so it's difficult for me to say how realistic or effective this solution could be -- having lived in the midwest, I've witnessed construction workers using concrete forms to pour foundations in just a day or two. I think the real potential of this solution will only be realized when dealing with multi-story homes and autonomously integrating electrical and plumbing.  That's when this technology will become really impressive.  In any case, the pair of articles making absurd claims about it taking 220 years to 3D print a home are misguided. 

 

Milling & Cutting Using Giant Industrial Robot Arms:

 

Via ElectricTV:

“As Official Treat Provider to London 2012 Cadbury has launched “Cadbury House” and a large “Treat Station” at the BT London Live Site in Hyde Park throughout the Olympics.

On the first day of the Games they launched a unique robot carver, able to transform a slab of Dairy Milk into any 3D creation over the course of the day. In true Olympic style they kicked off by recreating Wenlock, the official Olympic mascot. vai CadburyUK “

Chocolate-Carving Robot  Chocolate-Carving Robot

 

Robotic Solutions has a great lineup of industrial milling arms  -- along with plasma cutters, welders, quick-change end effectors, and tracked systems to increase the robots' workspace.  I don't want to cover each of these independently, so let's just look at one fun example:

Robotic Solutions' Giant Robot Arm Milling Machine  Robotic Solutions' Giant Robot Arm Milling Machine  Robotic Solutions' Giant Robot Arm Milling Machine

 

I've seen a lot of press about 3D printing "booths": a depth camera scans your body and then prints a 3D figurine. It would be so much cooler to get a life-sized milled bust. Someone should totally setup booths to do this at the state fair.  I'd buy one!

 

3D Printing Using Giant Industrial Robot Arms:

 

Here is Dirk Vander Kooij's "Endless" project, where he 3D prints chairs using materials from recycled refrigerators. Incidentally, it seems you can actually buy his creations.  Here are some pictures and a video of the process:

3D printer using giant robot arm  3D printer using giant robot arm

 

One of the cool things about this sort of design is that there is no filament.  The material is directly dropped into a hopper and then passed through the (massive!) heated extruder head.

 

Another SDM robot arm using clay instead of abs plastic:

FabClay is a 3D ceramic printing project launched by barcelona-based Sasha Jokic (Serbia), Starsk Lara (Colombia) and Nasim Fashami (Iran) aiming to explore a new digital fabrication system. It is a robotic additive manufacturing processes using industrial a Kuka robot and new 3D printing technology.

3D printer using clay  3D printer using clay  3D printer using clay

 

Here is another example from Dane Kouttron, who built his own 3D printer using a SCARA arm (via MakeZine). To quote:

An ancient, monstrous SCARA robot arm, open sourced servo-motor drives, and an ABS extrusion print-head with Linux-CNC gluing everything together.

This project documents the re-purposing of a 'rescued' 1980's IBM 7575 SCARA Robot Arm, into a functional 3D ABS printer. The project features some motor upgrades,  documentation of encoder positioned motor control feedback theory,  the interminglings of EMC2 [Linux CNC], heated workspace construction and a step by step overview of transitioning from 3D stl model to 3D g-coded structure.  The huge reach of the 7575, allows for printing large objects, (roughly ~25"x12"x6.5" maximum). Some of these prints are shown below.

3D Printer Robot Using SCARA Arm  3D Printer Robot Using SCARA Arm  3D Printer Robot Using SCARA Arm  3D Printer Robot Using SCARA Arm

 

 

 

ThermoPlastic for So-Called "Anti-Gravity" 3D Printing

 

This is probably my favorite "large" rapid prototyping system. Mataerial has a pretty unique take on 3D printing.

One of the key innovations of anti-gravity object modelling is the use of thermosetting polymers instead of thermoplastics that are used in existing 3D printers. The material is cured because of a chemical reaction between two source components with such proportion of extrusion and movement speeds that it comes solid out of the nozzle; this feature makes it possible to print hanging curves without support material.

Mataerial's 3D Printer using "Anti-Gravity" (thermoplastics)  Mataerial's 3D Printer using "Anti-Gravity" (thermoplastics) Mataerial's 3D Printer using "Anti-Gravity" (thermoplastics)

 

Metal Sheet Folding

 

RoboFold was featured in Wired last year:

"The idea of industrialising folding metal started about 16 years ago," he says, "but it wasn't until 2008 that I turned it into a business." His patented process uses six machines normally found in car manufacturing plants. They gently bend sheets of aluminium into shapes hard to achieve through conventional methods, to create decorative facades for interiors. The south London-based company uses computer-aided design to develop a 3D model. The bots look after the rest.

Robots folding and bending metal Robots folding and bending metal Robots folding and bending metal

 

 

Robotic Modular Assembly

 

Robot-assembled sculpture:

The sculpture is designed by Prague-based artist Federico Díaz, and when it's done, it'll have 420,000 black balls suspended in what appears to be an invisible box, 50-feet-by-20-feet, set down in the heart of the museum's entry courtyard. From the renderings, the whole thing looks like frozen oil splashing out of a giant vat. That, or CGI from some yet-to-be-made sci-fi-horror-surfer film called Geometric Death Frequency 141 which, incidentally, is the name Díaz gave the piece.

For the longest time, I thought this was just a concept (left image, rendered), but the photos from Massachusetts MoCA where the piece was exhibited (right two images, real) clearly show the completed sculpture.  Mad cool!

Robot assemble black ping pong balls Robot assemble black ping pong balls Robot assemble black ping pong balls

The sculpture was created using little black "ping pong"-like balls and superglue using industrial robot arms:

Robot assemble black ping pong balls Robot assemble black ping pong balls Robot assemble black ping pong balls

 

Here's another example, namely robot bricklaying:

Architects fitted a manipulator robot in a modified freight container -- a "mobile fabrication unit" that could travel anywhere in the world. They took it to Manhattan a few years ago, where the robot built a 22-meter-long (72 feet) brick structure

Robot assemble black ping pong balls Robot assemble black ping pong balls

 

Final Remarks

 

I'm well aware that this list is woefully incomplete -- this is just a small sampling of projects that I thought were interesting. If you know of any others, be sure to let us know in the comments.

Comments

Quick update on the "anti-gravity" 3D printing: I saw an article over on 3Ders.com about a system (by the same designer?) that uses a welding tip to do "anti-gravity" 3D printing using metal.

Anti Gravity 3D printer using metal Anti Gravity 3D printer using metal Anti Gravity 3D printer using metal

 

—Travis Deyle

Here are two other interesting large-scale rapid prototyping robots pulled from my more-recent notes:

(1) Clay Facades: A large robot arm extrudes clay into various wavy patterns. The clay is baked and used to form artistic building facades.

Rapid Prototyping Robot builds clay facades Rapid Prototyping Robot builds clay facades Rapid Prototyping Robot builds clay facades

 

(2) Robot-panelized house: Use milling robots to build super-thin interlocking panels that come together to form a house. To quote: "The building’s shell, which is made up of 243 interlocking plywood plates, is just 50 millimeters thick. Its span-to-thickness ratio is 200:1—half that of an eggshell."

Robot building a panelized house Robot building a panelized house Robot building a panelized house

—Travis Deyle

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