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Sandia National Laboratories in the US has developed a new work cell system for testing 3D printed parts using a modular robot. Sandia describe is as a modular, scalable and flexible work cell, which they have named Alinstante (Spanish for “in an instant”). The purpose of the cell is to determine the quality of parts and provide rapid inspection capabilities.

With the growing speed and output of printers, it was natural that there would need to be a machine to monitor quality of the parts to match this new pace. It appears that engineers Brad Boyce and Ross Burchard are taking this quality aspect into consideration. The cell they’ve designed is a hexagonal shape with the robot-arm at the centre.

In traditional manufacturing of metals, there’s a lot of experience and finesse in process control to produce metals with uniform properties,” Boyce stated. “When we went to laser manufacturing we had to take a step back and rethink qualification.”

Alinstante

Boyce had previously worked with high-throughput tensile testing. While a novel approach, it lacked the flexibility of this form of robotics. The main hexagon of the cell has six petal-like workstations that surround a singular arm in the centre. Burchard went through multiple iterations before arriving at this particular design.

My challenge was: How do you come up with a work cell with one robot and multiple testing stations that’s also modular and scalable?” Ross Burchard said.

The team saved tons of money by using off-the-shelf hardware wherever they could. This allows for the design to be functional and cheap. Aside from the hexagonal flooring, the team also installed safety light curtains. This lets the robot instantly stop as a safety feature incase of contact with a person. Robotics expert Tim Blada stresses that safety was number 1 priority.

The team are hoping that they can have a running user interface that allows users to put parts on a tray in the parts rack, select the relevant tests and receive an output without having to be an expert. As such, they hope the system will improve quality and reduce human error in quality determination.

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