3D printing fibreglass composites with a 6-axis robot arm

Using a robotic arm to 3D print has the advantage over other forms of 3D printing that it is much more flexible, giving you more design freedom. Depending on the size, some robot arms can 3D print objects as large as a house – sometimes literally a house. Atropos, the robot arm designed by architects and engineers at +LAB, the 3D printing research lab at Politecnico di Milano (IT), is able to print continuous fibre composites.

Through a technology known as Continuous Fibre Composites Smart Manufacturing, Atropos has the potential to create large, complex structures.

To print, Atropos uses thermosetting plastic – unlike coming 3D printing operations, which use thermoplastic – with fibres embedded into the print. Currently, the arm prints with fibreglass, but the team is working on introducing other fibres such as carbon fibre.

When the material exits the printer, it is hardened by a UV light, located near the print head. This eliminates the need for temporary supports in many cases.

The team was inspired by nature. They mostly studied the behaviour of spiders and silkworms, as well as the fibrous workings of human muscles and tendons, while developing the robot.

The aim of the project is to make the production scalable, making anything from very small to very large, complex products for architectural use.

Photos: Politecnico di Milano (via Archdaily)