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Posted: Jan 29, 2013
iRobot applies for U.S. patent for completely autonomous robotic 3D fabricator
(Nanowerk News) iRobot Corporation, the makers of Roomba robotic vacuum cleaners, has filed a U.S. patent application for a "Robotic Fabricator".
According to application 20130015596, published in the database of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Jan. 17, this technology is related to the three-dimensional printing and manufacturing process. IRobot said in the application that this would be a fully automated process without human intervention and labor.
A portion of typical 3D printing manufacturing processes are currently automated. However, most products are not manufactured by fully automated means. Human intervention and labor is almost always required. In traditional 3D printing, designs must still be divided into parts for production, and a trained individual assembles the fabricated parts into the final product after printing.
Additionally, in traditional 3D printing, material can only be deposited in areas in which there is already a base on which to deposit material. If the product to be printed requires an overhang, or becomes larger on a subsequent layer, a support structure is used to support the material that extends past the base on the previous plane. The support structure is removed after printing is complete, requiring extra processing and human involvement in the manufacturing steps.
Furthermore, in traditional 3D printing, connectors and fasteners are used to secure product components together, and seams are created when product components are fused together.
According to the patent application, the iRobot system includes 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. According to one feature, all-in-one product manufacturing increases the ability to produce prototypes or small production runs of devices, since no human intervention is used, product design is simpler and production is more efficient.