A new form of 6-axis 3D printing capable of producing large metal parts has come out of a collaboration between the Faculty of Science and Technology of the University of Coimbra (FCTUC) and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s R&D partner SINTEF. The 3D printer can fabricate parts from any angle and plane, widening the range of possible geometric complexities.
The team, coordinated by Professor Norberto Pires in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at FCTUC, envisions the system being used to make components for the aeronautics and energy industries. One of the world’s largest steel suppliers, India’s Tata Steel, has already voiced interest in the technology.
The 3D printer is the marrying of a dexterous robotic arm and a simultaneous simulation system as explained by Pires, "Simultaneous simulation, which covers several variables and parameters," like temperature and phase changes in the material "allows to immediately correct any anomalies that may arise. Currently, printing is performed by trial and error until the desired parameters are achieved." In short, their 3D printer can detect problems in a print and adjust parameters on the fly to provide a solution.
Their obstacles included writing the code "that allowed to generate without problems the printing trajectories for a robot of six axes or more" and "find[ing] a way to adapt the existing printing technology to a system of this type - automation and integration of technology." Additionally, the system needed "to be able to incorporate simulation tools that enable the real-time correction of the parts parameters," according to Pires.
An estimated 2 million euros will be required to get the 3D printer to market, so a project has been submitted to the European Union by a consortium of research centers that includes the New University of Lisbon as well as universities in Austria, Germany, Norway, and Spain. This technology could save industrial companies a lot of time and money in the fabrication and repair of large, complex components, so hopefully we’ll get a video demonstration soon to spur interest in investors.