The 3D Printing Role in Robotics Automation

Robotic Hands That Can Pick Up Anything

While 3D printed robotic arms have been successfully used to sort packages on a conveyor belt or bolt a screw in place on a car engine, there are instances when it cannot just pick up objects of different shapes in an assembly line. Some engineers at the University of Washington are finding ways and results are looking promising.

At the height of the pandemic, a team of University of Washington computer scientists and engineers were helping the government in manufacturing PPEs like face masks and face shields. Ford Automotive also helped, but personnel had to be brought in because the robotic arms being used just couldn’t pick up the face shields as easily and as cheaply as a steering wheel.

Robots do repetitive tasks over and over again. But you cannot turn them from manufacturing cars to manufacturing face shields just like that. So the team at the university decided to turn to a 3D printer to help solve this problem. They needed to have robotic hands or grippers pick up an item in order to be able to manipulate it, to scan it, to do other things with it.

The researchers used computer-aided design models of different objects ranging from household items to more complex shapes. They used software to identify the three best points on that object that a robotic hand, or gripper, could reach for and grab without knocking it over. It must be able to pick on the right three points to balance it just right. There is a set of instructions in the computer that could be fed into a 3D printer to make a plastic, three-fingered, hand-like gripper customized to the shape of the object being picked up.

Likewise, the team were also able to have the exact shape to pick up an object without any additional components to install, retool an entire robot by just using a cheap 3D printer to print off components, and rotate the objects 180 degrees.

The results are encouraging. The team believes that with more shapes to work with, they will gain more familiarity with the capabilities of the robotic hand. All they need to do now is to experiment with more objects of different shapes and, in the future, scale up the capabilities of robotic automation from doing 20 objects daily to 2 million.


Robotics Automation At Its Best

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3D printed objects

How 3D Printing All Began: Timeline of A Revolution

The History of 3D Printing

3D printing technology was first called Rapid Prototyping (RP) back in the late 80’s. It was boasted as fast and cost-effective for building prototypes used in product development. A certain Dr. Kodama, Japanese patent lawyer, first filed the patent application in 1980, but for some reason, delayed in making it before the prescribed deadline. Hence, by 1986, Charles Hull, was issued the first patent for stereolithography apparatus. He first invented his SLA machine in 1983 and later co-founded 3D Systems Corporation. Today it is one of the largest and most prolific organizations in 3D printing.

Rapid Prototyping Technology

The corporation’s SLA process may be the first but it was not the only rapid prototyping technology at the time. In 1987, Carl Deckard of the University of Texas, filed a patent for the Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) RP process, which later on 3D Systems Corp. acquired. In 1989, Scott Crump, a co-founder of Stratasys Inc. filed a patent for Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) which was issued in 1992. It is still in use today as well as the most preferred process of many entry-level printers now.

Europe was not to be left behind. So in 1989, Hans Langer founded EOS GmbH in Germany. The company also dealt in SLS in the beginning but its Research & Development refocused and later placed heavier emphasis on the laser sintering (LS) process with much vigor. Today, their systems are recognized worldwide for quality output for industrial prototyping and production applications of 3D printing.

During all these years, other 3D printing technologies and processes were emerging, namely Ballistic Particle Manufacturing (BPM), Laminated Object Manufacturing (LOM), and Solid Ground Curing (SGC). Other competing companies entered the field and the RP market grew in size in the 90’s. The three – 3D Systems, EOS and Stratasys – were the originals still in big business today.

From the 1990’s up until early 2000’s new technologies continued to be introduced, mostly on industrial applications and largely for prototyping applications. R&D was the focus of the more advanced technology providers. New terminologies begin to emerge, namely Rapid Tooling, Rapid Casting and Rapid Manufacturing. And then there’s Additive Manufacturing. Now it’s the accepted umbrella terminology for all things 3D printing due to the expansion of applications.

By the mid 90’s, distinct diversifications began to emerge. There’s high-end 3D printing, expensive but geared towards high value, highly engineered, complex parts. Applications expanded and covered aerospace, automotive, architectural, and medical, among others. Then there’s the lower market – the 3D printers in the mid range where a price war raged with some improvements in printing accuracy, speed and materials.

Stay tuned for the developments in 3D printing history when the 2000’s roll in our next blog.



Understanding What 3D Printing Is About

What is 3D Printing Technology?

3D printing is a technology that brings to physical life a three-dimensional digital model, which is a CAD representation, by means of a specialized printer that lays down the material layer by layer from the bottom up. In other words, objects are manipulated in their digital format and manufactured into new shapes by addition of material. That is why the process is also known as additive manufacturing.

3D printing has now covered all forms of media – television, publications, and online resources. They say that it revolutionized design, impacted geopolitics, economy, environment, and even the security of our everyday lives. They say it will threaten or even end traditional manufacturing as we know it.

The most differentiating principle, and also the most basic one, behind 3D printing is that it is an additive manufacturing process. It is key, as 3D printing is a radically different method of manufacturing based on advanced technology that builds up parts, additively, in layers at the minutest level – fundamentally different from any other existing traditional techniques.

Traditional manufacturing has limitations, one of which is that it relies on human labor. However, the field has changed, and automation is now involved in machining, casting, forming and molding – processes that require machines, computers and robotics. Even then, these technologies demand subtracting material from a larger origin to produce the product itself and they consume long man-hours, huge costs, different materials, among other constraints.

3D printing has proved itself the innovative trailblazer in manufacturing that reduces lead times and excessive costs. It is capable of intricate geometry and complex designs without the added costs. It affords the added and almost limitless freedom of design, and opportunities of redesigning without too much loss of time. Energy-efficient and environment-friendly, 3D printing utilizes 90% of standard materials used, meaning there is minimal wastage. End products are lighter, stronger, and more durable.

The players in this field used to be dominated by huge, multinational companies. Now small and medium-sized endeavors are booming as the technology becomes more accessible and affordable. Even individuals owning a 3D printer can easily join in the fray. As the playing field is now wider and diverse, the adoption rate continues apace on all fronts, more and more systems, materials, applications, services and ancillaries are emerging.


Learn More About 3D Printing Basics

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Robotics Made Easy with 3D Printing in Seattle

What You Can Get Out of 3D Printing Your Robot

If you’re a student taking on a Robotics Minor in a university, you’ll be open to a greater understanding of robot control systems while being able to design and develop every part of the robot control software. From the classroom, the robotics aficionado applies all his learnings on robot sensors, motions, circuits, and overall design of robots to real-life setting. For some time now, a technology that has been revolutionizing many industries on the planet has found its way into robot-making – the 3D printer.

3D printing allows students and professionals to be creative and develop further investigation and exploration of robotic systems. 3D printing is leading the way to creating new robotic technology by combining digital modeling with the physical manifestation.

So if you are venturing into building your own robot, choose high-quality 3D printing to very quickly iterate each part of your machine. Your robot’s performance and abilities will be optimized and be far more efficient if 3D printing makes running tests, saving you time and money.

Also, 3D printing can make complex robotic parts and shapes that are strong and lightweight, enabling smaller motors and prolonging battery life. Putting together and connecting movable parts of your robot may cause breakage at weak points, but 3D printed parts can come in one piece that reduces assembly time and eliminates welding.

Once you’ve got your robot prototype from 3D printing, you can final test it, see to all the parts functioning optimally, and if need be, alterations on-the-fly can fix minor details. You can print small series and start to test your market. Robotics is fun, and with 3D printing, has become a lot easier.

Got a Robot Idea? Bring it to Seattle 3D Composites!

Your 3D printing company in Seattle can make your robot plans and designs come true and come easy with 3D printing. If you’ve got an idea, bring it to us and let’s make robots!

The Advantages of using ABS in 3D Printing

What’s ABS and what can it do?

ABS is acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, a thermoplastic material that is easily sculpted and molded when superheated, allowing to form different shapes in accordance with the computer-assisted design. As it cools down, it conforms to the shape of the object being printed. ABS is a strong and sturdy material and ideal for professional applications, such as plastic car parts.

There are variants of ABS that make it ideal material for particular types of need.

The ABS-ESDTM has anti-static properties that prevents outside elements to stick to the object being printed, like powder, dust, and other fine particles. This property enables cleaner and smoother surfaces of the object or model and good for the assembly of electronic components, and also for casings and packaging.

The ABS M30, compared to the standard ABS, has greater tensile strength and stronger layer bonding, making for more realistic and durable parts of manufacturing tools and end-use parts for automotive and aviation industries. On the other hand, the ABS M30i is high- strength and suitable for medical, pharmaceutical and food packaging uses, being biocompatible and easily sterilized.

The ABSplusTM-P430 is the durable, true production-grade thermoplastic used for prototyping and building 3D models in an office setting. For industrial use, the PC ABS combines the properties of both materials – the superior strength and heat resistance of polycarbonate and ABS flexibility. It is ideal for automotive, electronics, and telecommunication utility.

Trusting ABS for 3D Printing in Seattle

The choice of any of these ABS variants for their most suitable use in 3D printing makes for superior quality models or prototypes here at our Seattle company. 3D Composites puts a high premium on product quality and customer satisfaction.