Ryan Sybrant, Senior Manager, Global Manufacturing Solutions Sales at Stratasys, took the stage on the second day of the RoboUniverse Conference & Expo to speak at the 3D Printing and Robotics – Perfect Together talk. Sybrant was followed by Voxel8 Co-Founder and Lead Software Engineer Jack Minardi, fresh off of their win at the RoboGameChanger Startup Competition the night before. The talk was moderated by Dr. Ofer Shochet, founder of Golem Robotics, who previously served as EVP Products at Stratasys. Dr. Shochet predicted that we are going to see a greater convergence of robotics and 3D printing. Additive manufacturing (AM) is already having an impact on robotics, allowing for quicker iterations on designs and getting functional models completed quicker. He noted that they are both disruptive technologies.
“The benefits of additive manufacturing for robotics is reduced cost, development and production time, freedom of design and mass customization,” Sybrant stated during his presentation.
Sybrant stressed that AM allows for the creation of structures and designs for robotics that couldn’t be produced otherwise. He pointed out several other benefits to using AM for robotics. AM allows for robotics to be built close to their point of use, thus reducing shipping cost and time. 3D printing can create lighter parts without sacrificing strength, producing more dynamic robots.
Sybrant explained that there is a scarcity of assistive robots in use today, despite the fact that most developed countries have aging populations and could really benefit from that technology. Sybrant referenced Roboy, a 3D printed humanoid robot created by the Artificial Intelligence Labs of the University of Zurich, as an example of what can be accomplished when AM and robotics come together. The first Roboy project, Roboy Junior, was developed in only 9 months. Roboy Junior’s CAD data and software are available on GitHub. As Sybrant explained, customization, maintenance and design can be improved through AM. He also cited some other examples of assistive robots, with a particular emphasis on prosthetics; Limbitless, e-Nable, Nemours and Robohand.
According to Sybrant, AM will improve efficiency in manufacturing for pick-n-place systems, and enable more affordable, better designed hands for industrial robots. Through AM, older robotic arms languishing in factories can be repurposed and put back into service. Sybrant singled out Robai as a company that produces their light-duty industrial robots with additive manufacturing. Sybrant also noted that UAVs will benefit from AM, and that NASA’s Greased Lightning concept is 3D printed. Another company that Sybrant pointed to was UAV Solutions, which uses 3D printers everyday to produce their UAVs.
Jack Minardi started his portion of the program by giving some background into the Voxel8. As previously reported, Voxel8 is a product of Professor Jennifer Lewis’ ‘Lewis Group’ at Harvard. Their FDM printer has two extruders: one that prints in plastic filament and one that prints in conductive ink that dries at room temperature.
Interestingly, the conductive traces can span free space. The prints can be paused in mid-print and electronics can then be added to cavities in the printed part. Once the print is resumed, filament is deposited on top of the electronics, embedding them in the print. It’s fascinating to behold.
In Voxel8’s R&D department they are experimenting with printing LiOn batteries with a 30 micron nozzle. Minardi explained that the Voxel8 will be extremely useful to have in remote environments since it can create complex replacement parts and is well suited for marine use and in space exploration.
He pointed to an example of how their technology is being utilized. A designer with years of experience in the antenna manufacturing industry was designing a new 3D WiFi antenna that couldn’t be developed with traditional technology. With the Voxel8 he was able to create a fully functional prototype that worked better than an off-the-shelf antenna. In fact, Minardi expressed the view that the Voxel8 is very well suited to printing all types of antennas and that it will be great for mobile robotics.
Voxel8 has a partnership with Autodesk to use Autodesk’s Project Wire software. Project Wire allows designers to bring their 3D model into the program and wire it up with components. Voxel8 used Project Wire to create a quadcopter that literally flies off of the Voxel8’s print bed after printing. Motors and propellers were the only components added after the print finished. The Voxel8 quadcopter’s components only cost $10 -$15. I later had the opportunity to see the quadcopter in action on the show floor. It was very impressive.
Minardi believes that the next major breakthrough in 3D printing will be what he calls ‘active printing.’ The printer will check its own progress using machine vision and will correct or cancel a bad print.
He believes that one day all 3D printers will feature a bevy of sensors to allow the machines to be autonomous. Minardi then went on to detail some of the work being done in Voxel8’s lab. Not only are they working on batteries, they are building capacitors. Minardi contends that, “A capacitor is essentially a badly designed battery.” More than 10 years from now, Minardi predicts that they will be printing fully functional actuators and motors.
The Voxel8 ships in November and the Project Wire beta will demo before then. I fully expect to see robotics take greater advantage of the cost savings and design freedom that additive manufacturing affords.
Let us know what you think of these insights in the RoboUniverse forum thread at 3DPB.com.