Thermosetting Composite Materials: Atropos Creates New Relationship Between 3D Printing & Robotics

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Most of us are aware, if only vaguely, of the story of the Three Fates in Greek mythology. Also known as the moirai, the three goddesses (and sisters) played quite a large role in that they held others’ lives in their hands—even those of the other gods. Now, Atropos, one of the sisters with the greatest control, is being summoned back—lending her name to powerful new technology that, instead of life and death, will be wielding photocurable continuous fiber composites in the form of a six-axis robotic arm.

partsmBorn out of a collaboration between KUKA (no surprise there), Owens Corning and +Lab run by Professor Marinella Levi at Politecnico di Milano, Atropos allows for a symbiotic partnership with 3D printing.

“Inspired by nature and silkworms, and controlled by the artifact intelligence of special algorithms, Atropos fluently moves in space depositing a continuous fiber of thermosetting composite material, instantly cured as it comes out of his head,” Professor Levi told 3DPrint.com.

With this new process including complex robotics, no molds are needed with the smart composite materials.

“Producing every object different from the other is now possible, opening to new possibilities in fields where both characteristics are necessary,” Professor Levi told us. “A new era of manufacturing has born, combining the quality of custom-made product with the performance of technological artisanship.”

Atropos is a patented idea from the +Lab team, meant to work with resin-soaked fibers that are carried to the printhead via a system of reservoirs and combined mechanisms. Curing occurs via a UV light source that solidifies the composite form. Due to the speed in polymerization, users can avoid the use of supports, enjoying the process—which even allows for freeform printing in space.

one kukaAccording to Professor Levi, this process begins as objects are designed in the popular 3D modeling software Rhino, along with algorithms editor Grasshopper and KUKA/prc, the data for the tool, path, and motion generation.

“The process is scalable, in order to obtain extremely precise structure or, on the other hand, to obtain large complex products, similarly to the automated fiber placement process, without the bounds of a mold and or any service structure,” Professor Levi told 3DPrint.com.

And as we see time and time again, nature often proffers up the most genius of ideas, even in its stunning simplicity. The +Lab team was able to achieve maximum results with their materials due to their study of the silkworms, spider silk, along with other basic parts of nature such as trees, leaves, and even the fibers of human muscles and tendons.

The +Lab team stated that with these studies, they intuitively turned to using the robot.

“The possibilities of movements allowed by the robot, while maintaining the head free of excessive mechanisms, has been one of the key factors to succeed in this additive manufacturing process,” states the team on their website.

two kukaBecause of the six-axis design, many movements are allowed for that would not be otherwise, such as applying the material in the direction of stresses, allowing for the highest performance possible, as well as for use of the composite materials. As the designers point out, this is not a technique that can really be compared with anything traditional. Their goal is to allow for a unique and innovative method for the production of lightweight objects and parts that offer high performance.

The group behind this new process sees it as one in a state of evolution, and they are adding new features each day to allow for even greater stability and better performance. As an example, on their website, they point out that 21 days ago, they could only fabricate glass fibers at 5 mm/s. They now print at 400% faster and can print in numerous other materials—even basalt. New mechanisms and chemicals are currently in the works, along with the future potential for printing with carbon fiber and Kevlar. Discuss further in the Atropos 3D Kuka Printing System forum over at 3DPB.com.

[Source / Images: +Lab]

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