DIMAP research project

Robot joints from a 3D printer 

DIMAP

Dental fillings, spare parts and prostheses – the range of products that are made with 3D printers is growing. These parts are usually made from just one material. In order to open up more application areas for ‘printed’ products, 3D printers are being developed that combine different materials. In the DIMAP research project, which is funded by the EU with around six million euros, the aim is to design and print robot joints made of different materials.

Instead of milling a workpiece out of a solid block, for example, additive manufacturing constructs components layer by layer. A 3D drawing, created with a CAD program, acts as a basis for this. The software in the additive manufacturing unit breaks this model down virtually into many single levels, which are built up gradually. With the so-called polyjet method, the materials, which are dissolved in a special chemical printer ink, are applied as liquid droplets, similar to an inkjet printer. A UV lamp then cures the liquid layer. This process is repeated until the part is finished.

Aims of the project

In the DIMAP research project (novel nanoparticle-enhanced digital materials for 3D printing and their applications shown for the robotic and electronic industry), the aim is to study to what extent ceramic, conductive and elastic materials are suitable for printing a robot arm with integrated joints. Fundamental material research is also necessary in this respect. For the first time, the necessary bearings, the lightweight kinematic structures, the pneumatic actuators and the conductive tracks all used for the robot arm are expected to be printed using the polyjet method. The particular challenge here is to correctly match the materials with each other because the aim is to produce the robot joints in a single printing process.

Besides the additive manufacturing method, so-called human-machine cooperation is another key point in the research project. The aim here is to design the kinematic structure to make it as lightweight as possible. The lower the moving mass, the lower too is the potential risk in the event of a possible collision. Furthermore, the robot joints are expected to have a certain flexibility to increase safety during cooperative handling tasks between humans and robots. The pneumatics also contribute towards this, as air can be compressed and the robot joint can thus be pushed away comparatively easily by a person.

Demonstrator

As a user in the research project, Festo is responsible for defining the requirements for the robotics and hence the necessary material properties. The robot joints are to be printed in another project stage and constructed in the form of a prototype robot, on which Festo can develop its own control and regulation concept. This demonstrator can be used to examine whether the robot joints produced using the new printing method are suitable in an industrial environment. For this purpose, their long-term stability under dynamic loading must be tested.

Other project partners

DIMAP

From the field of science

  • Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT)
  • Johannes Kepler University Linz
  • Soreq Nuclear Research Center
  • Tecnologia Navarra de Nanoproductos SL

From industry

  • Profactor GmbH
  • Stratasys Ltd.
  • Borealis Polyolefine GmbH
  • Tiger Coatings
  • Philips Electronics Nederland B. V.
  • CIRP GmbH
  • PV Nano Cell Ltd

The project DIMAP has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Programme for research and innovation under grant agreement no 685937.