Why aren’t there more 3D printers with robotic arms?

Mataerial 3D printer

Robotic arm 3D printers are cool. Really cool. Instead of printing within a box, they can build towering structures. They also aren’t limited to the layer-by-layer approach of the average consumer printer; they’re freeform. They’re common in manufacturing, but why aren’t there any available to the average 3D printer user? A few experts offered up their opinion.

Cornell engineering professor and “Fabricated” author Hod Lipson:

Because gantry systems (the static metal rods that guide print heads in 3D printers like MakerBots) are simpler, cheaper and more accurate than a robotic arm, especially for linear motion. Robotic arms have advantages for printing larger objects, e.g. see the work being done on architectural scale printing at Loughborough printed with a robotic arm.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EfbhdZKPHro&w=560&h=315]

Harvard biologically inspired engineering professor Jennifer Lewis:

Robotic arms are typically viewed as less safe. They can swing rapidly in any direction, etc. They often require some type of cage or shield to safeguard against injury. Six-axis motion control is also more expensive, typically. Clearly, these types of robots are widely used in traditional manufacturing, so there is no fundamental reason why that platform type could not be used for 3D printing.

Shapeways CEO Peter Weijmarshausen:

One of the key challenges of bringing high quality 3D printing to a mainstream audience is the cost associated with using industrial grade 3D printers. The machines deliver amazing capabilities and quality, but the process is still expensive. Robotic arms can help automate repetitive labor operations and are definitely something we’ll consider implementing once our factories get larger and more automated. It would not surprise me if robotics and robotic arms help us achieve our goal of making 3D printing affordable.

So these types of machines could soon become more prevalent among the big 3D printing companies. No one has tackled it at the consumer level yet, but, given some added safety measures, it’s not too crazy of an idea. Many of the hacks and build jobs that led to current robotic arm 3D printers were accomplished by artists, and those bots don’t look dangerous to be around. Considering the success of the 3Doodler, a more freeform 3D printer option could appeal to a lot of people.

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