As 3D printing technology progresses at an accelerated speed, research and development efforts around the world continue to ascend into the realm of 4D. Now, the 4DHybrid Project, coordinated by Prima Industrie, is not only heavily funded via the European Commission Horizon 2020 (including 20 partners from 10 different countries) but is also receiving research and technological coordination from The University of Applied Sciences of Italian Switzerland (SUPSI).
The objective of everyone involved in the consortium is to create a novel hybrid additive manufacturing process able to support the Maintenance Repairing Operation (MRO) value chain. Centered around robotics, this level of hybrid AM is meant to include large, high-value components, while the teams involved also develop compact, affordable modules for machines and robots, to include:
- Laser source
- Deposition head
And focusing on the hybrid, modules will include both additive and subtractive technology like Direct Energy Deposition (DED) and Ablation or Cold Spray (CS). The teams are also developing both sensor-based monitoring and inspection technology, resulting in a comprehensive system for applications like energy (oil and gas and power generation) and aerospace.
“The modularity concept together with the adoption of complex sensor-based monitoring systems will enrich the current state-of-the-art hybrid solutions with promising prototypes (Technology Readiness Level – TRL7), aiming to provide new possibilities for production and repairing sectors, where a multitude of technologies and equipment will be flexibly adopted,” states the press release sent from 4DHybrid to 3DPrint.com.
Employing a project exploitation strategy, the major stakeholders expect this project also to extend to offering robots for both AM and milling, along with 4D hybrid modules that can be used with varying manufacturing equipment.
“With this regard, a key sensitive aspect for us is to deploy solutions that are frictionless for end-users and demand for a very limited ramp-up time. This should ensure a faster and efficient absorption of project results,” stated the researchers.
With the inception of the 4D Hybrid Autonomous robot, researchers are able to both detect and then repair metal vertical surfaces in an environment like an offshore installation. The robot has both a scanner and cold spray gun attached, with the scanner reconstructing the surface and ‘individuating corrosion,’ while the cold spray system deposits new metal coating—in either stainless steel or aluminum alloy. This uniquely equipped robot can climb straight up very slippery surfaces due to its design, inspired by tracked vehicles and equipped with two rubber belts.
The researchers have really thought ahead too regarding issues like an offshore environment, discovering ways around complex challenges like recovery of dispersed powder during cold spray processes in open air, as the robot has a mini-vacuuming system for ‘sucking up the powders’ and transporting them for disposal. In an offshore environment, that would be to the top of a ship.
Hybrid 3D printing is beginning to impact numerous industries, as researchers around the world begin to develop new technology such as hybrid engineering, direct digital manufacturing systems, scalable hardware, and much more.
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