Revolutionizing Manufacturing: CEAD’s Breakthroughs in Large Format Additive Manufacturing and Automation

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In the age of technological advancements, automation and robotic 3D printing are revolutionizing the manufacturing landscape. The importance of integrating these cutting-edge technologies cannot be overstated, as they simplify the fabrication of large scale complex components with redefined efficiency, precision and sustainability across various industries. This article delves into the significance of automation and robotic 3D printing, highlighting CEAD, a pioneering company in the field of large format additive manufacturing (LFAM) solutions, spearheading efforts to automate the entire production process from design to finish.

A transformative approach by CEAD

The rapid growth of the Large Format Additive Manufacturing (LFAM) sector highlights the quest to find alternative, more efficient manufacturing technologies, where the potential for automation plays a pivotal role. Driven by the many benefits LFAM technology has to offer and the current demand for increased flexibility, efficiency and sustainability, LFAM emerges worldwide as a strategic solution. CEAD’s transformative approach provides a comprehensive turnkey solution, enhancing every stage from initial design to finish. Their application-orientated approach is based on their accumulative expertise and understanding of end-user requirements, driving their ongoing development efforts that concentrate on both hardware and software. Their technology platform is designed to cater to diverse applications across sectors. This dedication aims to replace traditional, time-consuming processes with an automated solution, enabling the creation of complex geometries in a time- and cost-effective manner.

Hybrid Flexbot set-up at TGS, photo credits: TGS

Hardware automation with Automatic Device Changer

Recent hardware innovations at CEAD revolve around fully automating their hybrid Flexbot solution. CEADs Flexbot, a unique all-in-one hybrid solution, integrates various (post-)processing technologies within a single robotic cell, including 3D printing and CNC milling. Notably, the Automatic Device Changer (ADC) marks a significant achievement, allowing seamless transition from 3D printing to CNC milling without manual interference. The ADC is an intricate system due to the diverse connections involved. It is not to be mistaken from automatic tool changing, which has already been a long-standing feature of the Flexbot, allowing to change between CNC tools. Focusing on fully automating the Flexbot, the ADC empowers the Flexbot to autonomously switch between an extruder and CNC spindle head – a truly innovative technology advancing automation.

Automatic Device Changer, photo credits: CEAD

Flexbot equipped with CNC milling spindle, photo credits: CEAD

Effortlessly create toolpaths for panels

AM relies on a synergy of hardware and software, and CEAD is committed to provide a seamless integration of both elements. The introduction of slicing software tailored for printing decorative panels exemplifies this commitment. 3D printing has proven to offer a more efficient alternative to traditional panel production methods, involving manual bending of steel rods, welding, and powder coating for the desired finish. This process was streamlined to minutes instead of hours with 3D printing, eliminating labor-intensive tasks and enabling the panels do be printed directly in the desired color. The success of this transformation led to the implementation of Flexbots with multiple print tables, allowing end-users to start a new print while the other was still cooling off. However, the digital design phase emerged as a potential bottleneck in time-to-market. To address this challenge, CEAD developed an algorithm to simplify the designing of these specific panels, ensuring that the entire process, from the initial design to the final product, is executed quickly and efficiently.

Data is power

CEAD’s new datalogging platform, empowers Flexbot users with extensive data access, offering insights into the machine’s core operations. Monitoring machine and process conditions enhances part quality and improves the printing process. This platform is integral to CEAD’s first-time-right initiative, helping to reduce time-to-market and promoting sustainability. With the growing significance of AI in the AM sphere, the collection of data not only optimizes current processes but also lays a foundation for future advancements.

Collaboration advances AM

Beyond internal developments, CEAD collaborates with specialized software and material partners, exemplified by their collaboration with ADAXIS and Airtech Advanced Materials Group. For example, the Flexbot facilitates the printing and finishing of parts in materials developed specifically by Airtech for autoclave tooling. For industries such as automotive, this enables the freedom to rapidly iterate designs and produce molds for components like dashboards, doors and bumpers. Working together with industry partners ensures seamless integration of the AM experience, enabling CEAD to provide an all-in-one-solution that revolutionizes the entire production chain across various industries.

Autoclave tooling representing the shape of car door, photo Credits: Airtech

In summary, this article demonstrates some of CEAD’s breakthroughs in robotic LFAM and automation. Leveraging the advancements in hardware and software, it allows the company to offer a turnkey solution for the LFAM industry. Their commitment to an application-oriented approach and collaboration with industry partners reinforces their impact in revolutionizing the production process.

Charlénevan Wingerden, CCO of CEAD Group, will be participating at the upcoming Additive Manufacturing Strategies business summit in New York, February 6 to 8, 2024. Windgerden will be speaking on Panel 2: Automation & Robotic 3D Printing,.

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