3D printing case study

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Improving automation through additive manufacturing

Active8 Robots specialises in the smarter application of robotics technologies, industrial automation and system integration solutions.

A repetitive dexterous task, such as grabbing, lifting, picking or positioning is considered simple and easy for an able-bodied human but is often too complicated and involved for a robot to achieve by itself. Active8 Robots has considerable expertise in designing and developing solutions to overcome such challenges. With a rapid prototyping capability that can go from paper to prototype in 24 hours, the company has provided countless iterations for bespoke end-of-arm tooling and adaptations to existing industrial robots and cobots.

Having worked with independent additive manufacturing solutions provider Creat3D over the past five years, Active8 Robots has developed a dedicated innovation centre, whereby additive manufacturing (AM) has become an integral part of its portfolio. A particular focus has been delivering bespoke 3D printed end-use components for highly intricate tasks. These 3D printed parts have enhanced functionality, are more lightweight, have lower costs and are designed, developed, tested and produced faster than traditionally manufactured parts.

The applications

Clients approach Active8 Robots with a wide variety of needs and objectives for adopting new or adapting existing robotic technologies. The solution will often be uniquely tailored to carry out a particular task, so the firm needs tools that can deliver on these aspects. Producing more lightweight end effectors increases the productivity of the robot, which in turn increases efficiency and reduces costs, while ensuring the parts are capable of withstanding harsh environments.

The company has a dedicated AM innovation centre, with over 12 3D printers in total, including a range of FFF, SLA, and three CFF Markforged industrial and desktop composite 3D printers, provided and supported by Creat3D.

“Our 3D printers are indispensable to us. They form a fundamental part of our process,” explains Alan Quinn, Engineering Manager at Active8 Robots.

The SLA and FFF machines are used for early-stage prototype and design development, whilst the Markforged 3D printers are also used to produce tooling and end-use components to customers — from conveyor guides to sensor mounts and tooling.

The results

Quinn comments that, “We can prototype quicker, design better, produce a more refined end product and we can achieve continuous improvement.”

AM presents a phenomenal time saving, reducing lead times to a matter of hours versus three to four weeks for external CNC machining. Using 3D printers in-house means that Active8 Robots can provide its clients with a superfast turnaround on idea and product development. Designs, from initial concept, to end components, are done in-house, overnight. Testing is carried out faster, and any design changes that need to be made are adopted immediately, re-printed and retested, reducing risk. There is no need for additional purchase orders, supplier selection or supplier management.

Custom solution – manipulating sandwiches

The development of a bread lifting tool was achieved through the use of Markforged composite 3D printers - producing accurate prototypes for fit and test assessments, before producing the final product in stainless steel. Using AM resulted in a reduction of 88.6% in lead time. From outsourced supply of four to six weeks to internal 3D print time of <24 hours.

Lightweight = enhanced part performance

Often the geometry of end of arm tooling can be difficult to machine. With 3D printing, the design can be adapted to better fit the task, and it is made lighter. Using Onyx (nylon with micro carbon fibres), Active8 Robots is able to print end-of-arm tooling that is hollow, yet strong.

3D printing end effectors also enables the storing of a digital file only, enabling manufacturing on demand, avoiding stockholding, reducing warehousing space and storage costs.

End-of-arm tooling – foam gripper

Active8 Robots’ foam gripper is a highly versatile tool, able to pick up multiple objects up to a weight of 10kg, thanks to a vacuum generator and solenoid built inside.

The main body of this gripper is a 3D printed one-piece hollowed part, something hard to achieve through traditional fabrication methods. Quinn says: “Cobots have limitations on pay loads, generally somewhere between 2-6kg. The benefit of 3D printed end-of-arm tooling is that those 3D printed components are extremely lightweight, which means the productivity of a robot can be substantially increased.”

Benefits of 3D printing include: reduction of weight by 50%; reduction of development time from one week to three days; and reduction of costs from £70 to £10 in materials

3D printing as a trusted tool in every solution

3D printing is used in some context on all physical projects by Active8 Robots, whether in early concept stages, design development, product testing, end solutions or end-use component and continuous development.

Simon Chandler, Managing Director of Creat3D says: “Its great to support manufacturing companies in adopting AM to unlock the large gains which this technology makes possible. Not only is Active8 benefitting from flexible on-demand production, but its customers are also receiving market-leading performance from the advanced automation and robotic solutions.”

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