Initially used as a means for rapid prototyping, 3D printing is quickly becoming a genuine manufacturing process for end use products. While traditional manufacturing methods are still ideal for mass production, additive manufacturing (AM) offers several significant benefits for certain applications. Traditional manufacturing processes (injection molding, die casting, vacuum forming, etc) require large initial costs that can only be recouped at scale. Moreover, such processes require excessive time and expertise to make even minute changes to manufacturing lines. These constraints inhibit Small Medium Enterprises (SMEs) from accessing this technology and discourages design iteration/innovation.
In this project, we attempt to build an autonomous 3D printer farm; which offers a flexible, lean, and agile manufacturing solution. The proposed facility features several Prusa Mk III 3D printers, each of which can independently eject and start print jobs. Unlike traditional manufacturing facilities, our 3D printer farm allows users to continuously update part design; even during production. Moreover, the farm has other potential benefits such as low lead times to start production, the ability to quickly vary capacity, mass customization, a linear costs model, and fully autonomous lights out operation.
The 3D printers are automated via a mobile robot. The robot is built with ROS and uses librealsense and AprilTag fiduciary markers for navigation. The robot has a powerful electromagnetic end effector for manipulating the build plates.