Producing lattice structures with 3D printing technology provides major benefits – including reduced material cost, lighter weight, faster production time, and increased flexibility – to a number of industries. These complex, nature-based structures are especially important to the aerospace and automotive sectors, two areas where additive manufacturing is expanding exponentially. The German bionic tech company, Festo, has just unveiled 3D Cocooner, a new technology meant to spin up these unique structures by converting soft thread into solid lattice structures.
For 3D Cocooner, Festo utilizes a spinneret to conjure up lattice structures from a special resin. As soon as this resin comes out of the spinneret, the mix of glass fibers and resin are instantly and accurately cured by UV light, hardening the material into a sturdy rod form. The threading process can be stopped and reset at any part of the lattice structure, enabling users to spin up some complex thread patterns.
“During the process, the thread can be reset at any point on the lattice structure, where it continues to build. In this way, it is possible to construct even complex shapes in three-dimensional space without any supports,” the Festo team states on their website.
The spinneret is attached onto a tripod, which allows for direct control and handling of where the thread is built. The tripod receives positional data and control signals straight from an animation software. This 3D model is then parametrically generated, sent directly into the tripod handling system, and eventually results in the desired lattice structure. The current build space of the 3D Cocooner is 450 x 300 x 600 mm, and prints at a speed of 10 mm per second. Festo claims that their cured fiber material doesn’t just offer unique lattice-based shapes, but also has properties that provides “astonishing tensile and bending strength”.
The 3D Cocooner will be front and center in a demonstration at Germany’s Hannover Messe trade show, an all-encompassing industrial exhibition taking place from April 25 to 29. To me, the 3D Cocooner almost looks like the industrial-grade, automated version of a 3D printing pen, controlled by a dead-accurate robotic system instead of the human hand.
By the way, this isn’t Festo’s first time using insect-inspiration to create innovative technology. Last year, they developed BionicANT robots, a small ant-based robot created with 3D printing and an electronic circuit. Once again, mother nature and some of her smallest critters have influenced Festo’s unique ability to produce these bionic lattice structures, which are becoming increasingly important as 3D printing technology continues to spin through the industrial sector.