While 3D printing might have lost its magic in the mainstream, there’s no denying that those that are still in the thick of it are coming up with ever more impressive ways of extruding melted plastic into functional objects.
And for some, 3D printing is still a viable way for not just prototyping but also manufacturing at scale. The problem is, how do you speed the process up? How can you cost-compete with injection molding?
The folks over at Brooklyn-based Voodoo Manufacturing just might have one of the best solutions we’ve seen yet in the form of Project Skywalker.
Using a Universal Robots UR10 robotic arm, the company has successfully been able to automate the ‘harvesting’ process (the manual process of removing a printer’s build plate) to pump out small production run batches with what is essentially the first-ever robot-operated 3D printer cluster (9 MakerBot Replicators).
“Extrapolating from the 9-printer cluster, we now estimate that a single arm will be capable of tending to approximately 100 printers within our factory,” explains company co-founder Jonathan Schwartz. “Using a robot to automate purely the harvesting step of our process would increase the current 40 printers/employee ratio to approximately 400 printers/employee. We also estimate that all in, each deployed robot arm will have a payback period of 3 months. Project Skywalker was a massive success, and all of Voodoo is now excited for the day we deploy it within our factory at full scale.”
While 3D printing still has a long ways to go before it can be considered a viable and cost-effective manufacturing solution, it’s initiatives like this that are helping us get there that much faster.
Read Schwartz’s full breakdown of the project—including how he thinks robotic automation is going to change the US manufacturing industry—over at the Voodoo Manufacturing blog.