3D Printers

3D printed parts tested “instantaneously” by Sandia’s Alinstante robot cell

Alinstante is an automated 3D printed part testing robot developed at Sandia National Laboratories. Taking its name from the Spanish translation of “in an instant,” the aim of Alinstante is to speed up the part qualification process which is, at present, an important barrier to the adoption of additive manufacturing.

Made as a modular work cell, Alinstante is versatile and scaleable. Further still, Sandia engineers believe, that the robot could theoretically ‘run forever’ with minimal human input.

Automated qualification on the Alinstante system. Clip via Sandia National Laboratories
Automated qualification on the Alinstante system. Clip via Sandia National Laboratories

Qualification in the hive

At present, an Alistante unit consists of six walls, each corresponding to potential work stations. The walls are arranged in a hexagonal formation around a central robotic arm.

At this development stage, the Sandia team have proved Alistante’s ability to service three different stations.

From the input station, the robotic arm picks up a plate containing a 3D printed part. From here, it is delivered either for metrology, of destructive testing.

In the metrology station, researchers fixed an off-the-shelf  structured light 3D scanner. In this module, a 3D scan is taken of the finished part which can then be compared to its original 3D design to determine any inconsistencies.

In a load frame, the part can undergo tensile or compression testing, to find out how it breaks.

Are robots taking over?

In recent years, the 3D printing industry has seen many projects seeking to ramp up the capabilities of 3D printing for series production. To name just a handful, there is: Formlabs’ Form Cell, the 3D Systems’ Figure 4 configuration, and Voodoo Manufacturing’s Project Skywalker.

By employing robots to do menial tasks, like post-processing, engineers are freed-up to do the kind of thinking that machines aren’t capable of.

Sandia materials scientist Brad Boyce explains the idea: “Friday afternoon you tell the 3D printer ‘I want you to print this part 10 different ways and then go test each one. You come to come back Monday morning and Alinstante tells you which process was the best.

“Let the robot do all the logistics work and get the human out of the loop except for making the important engineering decisions.”

Tim Blada, a Sandia roboticist who worked on the Alinstante project adds, “In theory you could run this thing forever, if you had enough parts.”

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Featured image shows Sandia materials scientist Brad Boyce and the Alinstante systems. Photo via Sandia National Laboratories