Fast development: Layer by layer with 3D printing

To innovate and build robotic arms and grippers smart and efficiently, we reach out for smart technologies like 3D printing. At the KUKA Development and Technology Center two teams work extensively with 3D printers: The Prototyping Team that develops new robots, and the Applications Engineering Team that develops new custom applications. Both use 3D printers early and often in their design process.
One of our fastest development cycles by using 3D printing

The KR 3 AGILUS, our smaller scale robot that fits ideally into small automation cells, saw one of the company’s fastest development cycles yet among other reasons thanks to the extensive use of 3D printing. Building this six-axis robot capable of performing in a wide variety of applications takes serious planning, testing, and precision. That job falls to Sören Papsdorf, Head of Manufacturing Engineering and his team. Using an in-house 3D printer with a large build volume allows designers and engineers to print and test designs much earlier in the process than if they outsourced parts.

Make faster and better decisions

Once the final design begins to take shape, the team prints scale prototypes to test more complicated design features like cable routing — a step that would otherwise take weeks without unrestricted access to 3D printers. With the rich physical information available from the early printed prototypes, the designers can make faster and better decisions — decisions that ultimately save weeks off their total development time.

3D printing non-stop

As the KR 3 AGILUS design approached its final form, Sören’s team printed custom tooling and manufacturing setups for assembly and testing. The team can’t just go to the hardware store and buy robot building tools – they have to create everything custom. Based on the successful use of 3D printers and the level of confidence the team brings to operating the 3D printers efficiently, they saved several weeks during the development of the KR 3 AGILUS. The MakerBot 3D printers run at a 92% success rate, and at over 7,000 hours a year, they’re essentially printing non-stop.

Hands to carry out unique tasks

Once finished, the KR 3 AGILUS needs custom end-effectors or “hands” to carry out unique tasks for KUKA’s customers. Led by Otmar Honsberg, the Applications Engineering Team takes robots from KUKA’s growing portfolio and builds custom applications for tasks in different industries. If a robot should assemble delicate consumer electronics, Otmar’s team explores then prototypes, the best processes and hardware to accomplish it.

Robots safely working alongside humans

With the KUKA LBR iiwa, a smart robot capable of safely working alongside humans, Otmar’s team began prototyping gripper for specific customer requests; Using 3D printers, his team sprinted from early concept exploration to testing 3D printed prototypes, before eventually deciding to use 3D printed parts in the final hand, cutting down on hardware weight and development time. The result, when paired with a camera and software, is the automated ItemPiQ end-effector.

Reliable 3D printers

After a hand is built, Otmar’s team implements the system at the customer’s facility. Access to reliable 3D printers gives them the ability to further customize and improve solutions quickly and iteratively while on-site. Considering the full cycle from start to finish, Otmar reports that his designers and engineers have an incredible amount of freedom using MakerBot 3D printers, and conventional processes are just too slow in comparison. He says that in some cases 3D printing saves 2-4 weeks throughout the entire process and that this level of fine-tuning, service, and customization would not be possible without 3D printing. The future of manufacturing depends on the efficiency and reliability of innovative technologies like 3D printing.

More Information about the MakerBot-3D-Print and the ItemPiQ:

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