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Voodoo Manufacturing aim for a 24/7 3D printing factory with robot-arm powered Project Skywalker

Brooklyn-based 3D printing factory Voodoo Manufacturing has unveiled a prototype of its automated 3D printing production line. Under the name Project Skywalker, the team are using a robotic arm with the hope of increasing production rates by up to 400% in the next 3 – 5 years. The aim is to be able to compete with the production capacity possible in traditional mass-manufacturing methods.

Project Skywalker robotic arm time lapse through the night. Clip via Voodoo Manufacturing on YouTube

“from 160 printers today, to ten-thousand 3D printers tomorrow”

In a video clip released on the company’s YouTube channel, Voodoo Manufacturing CPO Jonathan Schwartz, shares their vision for the future. He says,

Our goal is to make manufacturing more like software, and make it accessible to anyone who wants to make a physical part or product.

In the same clip, Voodoo CEO Max Friefeld adds,

When we started Voodoo it was obvious that robotics would be a key part of the company. This is how we’re going to scale the company of the future from 160 printers today, to ten-thousand 3D printers tomorrow.

The integrated robotic arm is indicative of an Industry 4.0 Smart Factory of the future, as seen in the University of Sheffield’s Factory 2050 in the UK.

How does it work?

Project Skywalker’s robotic arm is programmed to collect finished objects from a cluster of nine 3D printers.

It does so by sliding out the build plate and adding it to a conveyor belt. It then takes a fresh plate from a stack and replaces it inside the 3D printer. Accompanying software then tells the 3D printer it can start printing again.

A cluster of nine 9 3D printers tended by the robotic arm. Conveyor belt of 3D printed objects on plates seen on the right. Photo via Voodoo Manufacturing
A cluster of nine 9 3D printers tended by the robotic arm. Conveyor belt of 3D printed objects on plates seen on the right. Photo via Voodoo Manufacturing

The increased productivity of integrating a robot arm is accompanied by a potential 90% saving on cost of production over the next 3 – 5 years. CPO Jonathan Schwartz adds,

Seeing it fully operational for the first time was amazing. We ran it unmanned overnight, and in the morning it had been producing parts for 14 hours straight! We’re now excited to deploy it at scale and increase our factory’s capacity by close to 400%.

Freeing people to think

With a machine capable of working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, Max Friefeld answers one of the main concerns when surrounding automation: what’s going to happen to all the human jobs? He says,

The robot arm is almost actually entirely about flexibility, and making our system more flexible for the people. The robot might take over these menial, repetitive tasks that aren’t really meant for humans, and that’s going to free up people, so that they can go do what people do best: which is think.

He also comments on manufacturing jobs returning from overseas outsourcing,

The jobs that are coming back are going to be more focused on building a system, working together with automation, and running a factory in a way that is actually a lot more human friendly.

Project Skywalker arm. Photo via Voodoo Manufacturing
Project Skywalker arm. Photo via Voodoo Manufacturing

Competing with mass manufacturing

In November 2016, 3D Printing Industry reported on a $2 million investment in the robotic operation of 3D printers. The money was awarded to Oregon based startup company Tend.ai who develop cloud based programming for robotic arms to “tend” to multiple machines.

Another project looking at automation for 3D printing is run by Dutch independent research company TNO in partnership with large-scale 3D printer manufacturers BigRep, based in Germany. TNO’s Print Valley project uses a conveyor belt system for FFF 3D printing of multiple objects. You can read more about the process in our article about the partnership here.

FFF automation in the Print Valley project. Clip via TNO on Youtube.

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Featured image shows the Project Skywalker robotic arm adding finished build plates to a conveyor belt. Photo via Voodoo Manufacturing