Ford Motor Company introduced a new 3D printing workflow where it is using autonomous robots for operating 3D printers. The innovative robot on wheels from supplier KUKA is named Javier and is being used at Ford’s Advanced Manufacturing Center in Redford, Michigan.
The autonomous robots for operating 3D printers is integral to the company’s development of an industry-first process to operate Carbon 3D printers which can move from one place to the other in the process.
“This new process has the ability to change the way we use robotics in our manufacturing facilities. Not only does it enable Ford to scale its 3D printer operations, it extends into other aspects of our manufacturing processes – this technology will allow us to simplify equipment and be even more flexible on the assembly line.”– Jason Ryska, director, global manufacturing technology development
Autonomous Robots for Operating 3D Printers
Ford has a high level of accuracy with Javier, reducing margins of error by using his feedback. In addition to 3D printers, the method can be used to improve efficiency and lower costs by applying it to a wide range of robots already in use at the company. Ford has filed several patents related to the overall process, communication interfaces, and precise robot positioning that do not require the use of a camera vision system to “see.”
Different pieces of equipment from different suppliers are typically unable to communicate with one another because they do not use the same communication interface. Ford created an application interface programme that enables various pieces of equipment to “speak the same language” and provide continuous feedback to one another. The Carbon 3D printer, for example, notifies the KUKA autonomous mobile robot when the printed product is complete, and the robot then notifies the printer that the robot has arrived and is ready for pickup. The entire process is made possible by this innovative communication.
Javier enables Ford to keep its 3D printers running late into the night, even after its employees have gone home for the day. This not only improves throughput, but it also lowers the cost of custom-printed products. Ford has used the printer to create low-volume, custom parts for the Performance Package-equipped Mustang Shelby® GT500, such as a brake line bracket.
While the process is self-contained, Ford operators are in charge of uploading 3D designs to the printer, maintaining the equipment, and developing new applications for the technology.
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