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Exploring Large Format 3D Printing in Industrial Robotics

Revealing how large format 3d printing in industrial robotics is revolutionising many industries with its ability to create customised products with complex geometries.

Solid Print3D

May 16, 2024

The world of additive manufacturing (also known as 3D printing) is revolutionising many industries with its ability to create customised products with complex geometries. However, traditional desktop 3D printers have limitations in terms of build volume and material compatibility. This is where large format additive manufacturing (LFAM) incorporating robotics comes into play, offering game-changing solutions for industrial applications, and Caracol provides one such solution. In this blog post we’ll go through the benefits and limitations of large format additive manufacturing, with a special focus on case studies and applications.

Advantages of Large Format 3D Printing

The benefits of using robots for additive manufacturing include increased precision, speed, and automation. This technology allows for faster prototyping and production of complex geometries, with less need for tooling and moulds. Additionally, it enables on-demand production, reducing the need for large inventories and warehouse storage space.

In the manufacturing sector, large format 3D printing transforms the way products are designed, developed, and produced. It helps companies create new products quickly and efficiently, therefore reducing time to market which is often of vital importance in today’s competitive world. Large format 3D printing also leads to greater flexibility in production, allowing manufacturers to adapt quickly to changing market demands. In short, robotic 3D printing has the potential to revolutionise the manufacturing industry, making it more efficient, cost-effective, and responsive to the needs of customers.

One of the biggest advantages of large format 3D printing systems is that they make the production of large-scale parts possible and structures without the constraints of traditional manufacturing methods. Their flexibility supports the creation of items with complex geometries and intricate designs, customised to suit specific requirements. Latticed structures, overhands or interlocking parts are, for example, notoriously difficult to produce with traditional 3D printers, but with large format 3D printing they can be delivered quickly and reliably.

In addition, by eliminating the need for multiple manufacturing steps, such as tooling, moulding and assembly, introducing the technology streamlines the production process, reducing costs and lead times. This efficiency opens the way to increased productivity.

Another important benefit is that large format 3D printing promotes sustainable manufacturing by minimising material waste and enabling the production of lightweight, optimised designs. Because of their ability to handle complex geometries, these systems can produce parts with reduced material usage, leading to lower energy consumption and a smaller environmental footprint. 

How Robotics LFAM Differs from Regular Large Format 3D Printing

While traditional large-scale 3D printers like BigRep and Roboze have paved the way toward larger build volumes, large format 3D printing takes manufacturing to unprecedented scales by integrating industrial robotic arms with advanced extrusion systems. This combination unlocks a whole new realm of possibilities in terms of size, material compatibility, and part complexity.

In terms of scale and capabilities, LFAM systems can produce parts and structures measuring several metres in size, dwarfing the capabilities of even the largest conventional 3D printers. This expanded scale enables the fabrication of large components for industries such as aerospace, construction, and automotive, where size is a critical factor.

Furthermore, large format 3D printing systems are not limited to traditional filament-based materials. They can use a wide range of high-performance materials, including thermoplastics, composites, and even concrete, allowing the production of robust and durable parts suitable for demanding applications.

Applications in Architecture and Construction

The construction industry has embraced large format 3D printing as a revolutionary technology for on-site and off-site construction. It can produce large-scale architectural components and models, including structural elements, facades, and decorative features, with intricate designs and customised geometries.

One notable example is the collaborative project between Danish firm COBOD and construction company GCC, who introduced large format 3D printing  in their manufacture of a two-storey residential building in Belgium. This project demonstrated its potential in reducing construction time, minimising material waste, and enabling highly customised designs.

Another example comes from Renzo Piano Building Workshop (RPBW), an Italian/French architectural studio that makes much use of Formlabs 3D printers. By employing the printers in conjunction with traditional modelling, desktop CNC machines, and other tools, RPBW architects produce large and realistic multipart models. Thanks to 3D printing, they are able to create intricate components, like trees and pipework, in hours instead of weeks.  

Automotive and Tooling Applications

The automotive industry has long been in the vanguard when it comes to adopting innovative manufacturing technologies and large format 3D printing is no exception. For example, the Caracol Heron AM range can produce large-scale prototypes, concept models, and even functional components for vehicles in very short timescales, enabling faster design iterations and accelerated product development cycles.

In the realm of tooling, large format 3D printing offers a transformative solution for the production of large-scale moulds, jigs, and fixtures. These tools can be customised to specific requirements, reducing lead times and costs associated with traditional tooling processes.

Other notable applications of LFAM technologies

In collaboration with Thermwood Corporation, Ingersoll Machine Tools have utlised large format 3D printer to produce 6.5-meter-long (21.3 feet) polymer tool for use in the manufacturing of wind turbine blades. This tool, weighing over 3,600 kilograms (8,000 pounds), showcased the exceptional capabilities of LFAM for producing large structures for specialised applications.

The Autonomous Tent, a project by AI SpaceFactory, demonstrated the potential of LFAM in extra-terrestrial construction. Using robotic large format 3D printing, AI SpaceFactory successfully 3D printed a structure measuring 6.7 metres (22 feet) in diameter and 3.3 metres (11 feet) in height, using a specialised concrete mixture. This project showcased the versatility of large format 3D printing in extreme environments and its potential for future space exploration and habitation.

So, whether you’re looking to adopt 3D printing for rapid prototyping, digital manufacturing or advanced research and development projects, this three-part blog series will provide the answers you need, allowing you to choose the solution that best aligns to your goals and delivers the outputs you expect. 

Further reading: Aerospace case study of revolutionising autoclave mould production

As these examples show, the future of large format additive manufacturing in industrial robotics is bright, offering a multitude of opportunities across multiple sectors. And, as the technology continues to evolve and gain wider adoption, we can expect to witness more innovative applications and ground-breaking projects that push the boundaries of what is possible in manufacturing. If you would like to explore the benefits of large format 3D printing contact us – we’re always happy to help!

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