Robot arm gives 3D printer unprecedented freedom
Researchers at the TU Delft Robotics Institute have built a prototype of a unique 3D printer together with researchers from Océ. The printer works by means of a robot arm with various degrees of freedom and utilises a high-performance printer head from Océ. The robot arm is able to print in all directions, which means that the arm can move the printer head along complex, curved surfaces, giving it a number of advantages compared with current 3D printers (in which the printer head is only able to move along straight lines). This means that the new way of printing will not only have shorter printing times, but the print quality will also be higher. And it will also be possible to print on existing objects, with all kinds of potential applications, such as repairing tears, coating and restoration.
In order to try out the prototype, three tests were carried out. In the first test, the prototype made a large 2D print. Seeing that the robot arm does not need to move linearly, the required printing time is considerably shorter. Printing the Océ logo, for example, was carried out twice as quickly.
In the second test, the prototype printed on a curved surface. Using data from a laser scanner, the printer head can always be positioned perpendicular to and at the correct distance from the surface. The robot arm can also print on other non-flat surfaces. The advantage of being able to print on existing objects is, among other things, that these objects can be repaired or rebuilt with printers.
In the third test, the possibilities for 3D printing were analysed. Put simply, the difference between a 2D print and a 3D print is the number of layers. In a 2D print, there is only a single layer, whereas a 3D print is built up by placing a number of 2D prints on top of each other. In order to get a correct 3D print, it is necessary to apply a correct ‘building strategy’. Seeing that the robot arm is able to move in all directions, in principle it is possible to develop new and more complex building strategies. On this matter, the prototype still needs to be optimised.