3D printing and automation go hand in hand. After all, 3D printing is a type of automated manufacturing. The drive within the industry to automate more of the printing workflow, from loading materials to the post processing of printed parts, seems all too appropriate. AM-Flow feels that drive; they just raised $4 million to continue developing their automated hardware for AM production lines.
We have a team that is passionate about enabling Additive Manufacturing to live up to its sustainability promise: local, distributed manufacturing. To drive further adoption of Additive Manufacturing, the industry must get to competitive price and quality levels per part, and shift her focus from the 3D-printer to the AM Factory. AM-Flow CEO, Stefan Rink
In an AM factory, there really is a lot that can be automated:
- Print queue optimization
- Material storage (temperature, humidity, location), retrieval, and loading
- Printer preparation
- Detecting failures and aborting/restarting
- Removing printed parts from the printer
- Moving parts to and from post-processing stations
- Post processing: removing supports, curing, annealing, sanding, painting, etc
To do all of that effectively, different types of automated devices work in concert, connected together through a machine-learning AI called AM-LOGIC that serves as a virtual maestro. The Factory 4.0 will be producing all sorts of complex geometries so the automated systems that handle them will have to be highly advanced in order to visually identify them and physically manipulate them safely.
Those tasks may be simple for humans but they’re serious hurdles for our relatively young AI systems. Bart Van der Schueren, CTO at Materialise, explains the significance of automating those seemingly simple tasks, “The success of scaling Additive Manufacturing as part of an end-to-end digital platform is not just dependent on continued innovation of the printing process itself, but also on whether we’ll be able to handle the high variety of printed components in a cost-efficient way. That’s why we are excited by AM-Flow’s product portfolio, which creates a path towards cost-efficient scaling of the handling process.”
A goal for AM-Flow is to get the Factory 4.0 model to run as a Lights Out Factory, meaning the lights don’t need to be on because there are no humans to see anything, only machines managing machines. Their current lineup of robotic part sorters and packagers is already impressive. And the advancements they make along the way in robotics and AI visual processing and decision making will go into the Jetson’s-style home robots that they will inevitably print for us with their automated AM factories.
Image courtesy of AM-Flow