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As 3D technology has grown, new developments are moving into the space of industrial use and moving away from commercial, at-home printing innovations. Applications are being discovered for 3D printers in industrial robotics, as companies begin to adopt the technology for the way it can be added to processes to solve relevant manufacturing processes.
The 3D printing market grows in the industrial segment
According to the 2019 Wohlers Report, the global 3D printing industry will grow to $35.6 billion by 2024, showing a continued rapid growth rate as industries find more applications for the developing technology. While the commercial segment of 3D printing slows, the industrial side is picking up pace as companies discover the benefits of adding this kind of manufacturing into their processes.
Applications in industrial robotics
Industrial robotics is one of the areas that is finding new applications for 3D printing. Below, we discuss the emerging areas in which 3D printing is making a mark in this sector.
Creation of smart factories
The combination of 3D printing processes alongside industrial robots is being looked to to provide a solution to the growing need manufacturers have to create large objects on mass and with precision, while also wanting to automate the production process. As 3D printing methods have developed, their integration with industrial robotics has become simpler, leading to the concept of smart manufacturing.
American 3D printing manufacturer Stratasys has innovated a new 3D printing system that incorporates a material deposition head onto an industrial robotic arm, combining the two technologies. Their Robotic Composite 3D Demonstrator was unveiled in 2016 at the International Manufacturing Technology Show. The innovation supports the production of larger and lighter parts that can be precisely constructed from thermoplastic filaments.
Rapid prototyping of new industrial robots
3D printing is often utilized when manufacturers need to create a product accurately, quickly and at a low quantity. These features lend themselves to prototyping. This has lead to 3D printers being brought in to prototype industrial robots, helping to aid the development of better, more efficient robots in the industrial sector. With 3D printers enabling a quick turnaround time on producing bespoke components, engineers are able to speed up the research and design phase, leading to new, higher quality robots being available for use much faster than they would with conventional prototyping.
Maintaining industrial robots
Industry is using the benefits of 3D printing, such as rapid creation of bespoke products as and when they’re needed, to their advantage. Some of the world’s largest manufacturers are already employing 3D printers to create the robots that they use in their manufacturing processes. Printers are being relied on to produce components of the robot itself, plus the end effectors, be this a grip/grab/weld or any function.
Manufacture of robotic arms for 3D printing
In discussing the future of smart factories, the innovation of 3D printers the utilize robotic arms was touched on. This in itself is a major new application of 3D printing in industrial robotics. Numerous industry players are developing different kinds of robotic arms with the capability of performing 3D printing.
They are being developed to provide solutions to specific industry 3D printing needs. For example, Viridis3D have recently created the RAM 123 3D printing system, which combines an ABB industrial robotic arm with an inkjet head, giving it the capability to 3D-print sand to create sand moulds.
Other innovations have focused on creating systems that can handle a wide range of projects, such as the Infinite-Build 3D Demonstrator, which is capable of 3D printing objects of theoretically infinite lengths.
As the 3D printing market continues to grow and technology continues to develop alongside it, we can expect to see further possible applications of 3D printers in industrial robotics emerge in the near future.
References and Further Reading
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