Siemens and CEAD Develop Hybrid 3D Printing Robotic Arm

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3D printing with continuous reinforcement fibers, like carbon fiber, is just now starting to come into its own, with numerous startups developing their own unique approaches to the concept. Their presence on the market is a different story, as many of these firms are still in the R&D or beta stages. Dutch firm CEAD, however, is already in the process of building and shipping its massive reinforcement fiber 3D printers and has already developed, in partnership with Siemens, a follow-up system that it will be showcasing at Formnext 2019: the AM Flexbot.

You may have caught our previous coverage of CEAD and its Continuous Fiber Additive Manufacturing (CFAM) process. The company’s first printer, the CFAM Prime, has a massive build envelope of 4mx2mx1.5m and is, according to CEAD, able to print thermoplastics reinforced with continuous glass or carbon fiber at a rapid average rate of 15 kg/hr. To maintain precision while depositing at such speeds, the system is controlled by Siemens’ Sinumerik 840D sl.

The firm’s new technology, the AM Flexbot, extends CEAD’s partnership with Siemens, resulting in a 3D printing process that uses a large-scale industrial robotic arm as a motion platform. The system features CEAD’s single screw extruder unit mounted onto a Comau robotic arm, all controlled by Siemens’ Sinumerik CNC with Run MyRobot /Direct Control software. For clarification: the AM Flexbot does not perform continuous fiber reinforcement.

CEAD parts for a small pedestrian bridge the company is making.

CEAD turned to Comau and Sinumerik Run MyRobot/Direct Control in order to maintain the precision necessary to accurately deposit the material to near-net-shape before milling parts to completion. The AM Flexbot is now available for purchase, but CEAD is aiming to expand its feature set. If the system can both 3D print and mill, it’s possible to imagine what additional capabilities it might have. This could include performing quality control metrology once a print has been completed, using robotic grippers to add external components, or working in tandem with other robotic arms to create even larger structures.

CEAD co-founder and Operations Director Lucas Janssen said of the product, “By using Siemens’ Sinumerik Run MyRobot /Direct Control together with a Comau robot arm in our latest solution, we are able to deliver a modular system scalable to fit our customer’s needs as many different functions can be added at any time. We are very pleased to work with Siemens and their reliable products.”

CEAD is not alone in the fiber reinforcement or robotic arm space. In terms of the former, companies like AREVO, Impossible Objects, Markforged, Desktop Metal, Anisoprint, and Continuous Composites are just a few who are either working on fiber reinforcement 3D printing or have commercial products readily available. For robotic arms, 3D Systems, MX3D, Stratasys, and EnvisionTEC are only the commercial companies who are either working on 3D printing with robotic arms or have solutions commercially available. In both spaces, there are countless research projects being performed, so CEAD will find itself with plenty of company in the near future.

The AM Flexbot will be on display at the Siemens booth (D81, Hall 12.1) at Formnext 2019, but if you don’t catch it there, Siemens will also be including a CEAD 3D printing system at its Additive Manufacturing Experience Center (AMEC) in Erlangen, Germany.

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