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Design and Development
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iRobot’s Patent Gives 3D Printing a Hand
The Robotic Fabricator completes the post-printing process and assembles fabricated parts
By Robotics Trends' News Sources - Filed Feb 07, 2013

Credit: iRobot

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While some 3D printing manufacturing processes are currently automated, most still need human intervention and labor to complete the process and assemble the fabricated parts into the final product after printing.

Bedford based Roomba maker iRobot Corporation, founded in 1990 by Massachusetts Institute of Technology roboticists, has filed a US patent entitled "Robotic Fabricator", a completely autonomous all-in-one product fabrication robot that handles manufacturing (including 3D printing) and all the post printing work from seed component to mature product.

In their application noted the company: In traditional 3D printing, if the product to be printed requires an overhang, or becomes larger on a subsequent layer, a support structure is used and it need to be removed after printing, requiring extra processing and human involvement in the manufacturing steps.

Additionally, connectors and fasteners are used to secure product components together, and seams are created when product components are fused together. Connectors, fasteners, seams, and similar interfaces are frequently a source of failure in the end product. Furthermore human intervention and labor are required for assembling a finished product.

iRobot's Robotic Fabricator is going to change it: it automates the manufacture and assembly processes aiming to reduce the need for human labor, decrease manufacturing costs and improve product quality.

The new systems and methods include a fabrication machine/method that fuses additive and subtractive manufacturing with in-situ component placement to provide completely autonomous all-in-one product manufacturing.


Product fabrication is centered around a six-axis industrial robotic manipulator (primary manipulator) that handles the product from seed component to mature product. The primary manipulator positions the product for manufacturing operations such as additive and subtractive manufacturing (3D printing, milling and drilling). A secondary manipulator handles component pick-and-place and secondary manufacturing operations such as wire placement and hardware testing.


The system may include one or more sensors that can measure parameters and characteristics of the product being manufactured while the process is taking place. For example, the system can include a precision visual scanning device that will generate precise measurements of the product being fabricated. Information collected by the sensor may be used by the fabrication machine to adjust subsequent steps in the manufacturing process. The sensors can also be used for detecting electrical anomalies in wiring to add wires or cables to a product etc.

 The fabrication machine utilizes also a pick-and-place manufacturing method with the added capability of operating in six degrees of freedom, allowing for the placement of components in arbitrary locations on the product assembly.

The fabrication machine may be used in factories, individuals or military in the field for producing and repairing products. The processes, including FDM and Robocasting, will allow for products composed of numerous materials, including ABS, polycarbonate, silicone rubbers, urethane rubbers, and plastics, and low melting temperature metals, as well as combinations of these materials.


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