3D printing, also known as Additive Manufacturing has been slowly taking the manufacturing industry by storm. New additive manufacturing technology is making the factory of the future a reality. Innovative manufacturers are taking 3D printing to new heights, creating a revolutionary new kind of factory focused heavily on automation. Many steps still require human intervention such as checking, prepping, loading CAD files, removing prints and post processing but one company, in particular, has taken impressive steps forward.
With the focus on 3D printing in the manufacturing industry expanding rapidly, it would not be surprising to see large manufacturers investing in and experimenting with this technology. However, it seems small businesses like Voodoo Manufacturing are the biggest proponents of advancing the technology and innovating the process. Recently, Voodoo has implemented a robotic arm to bypass human intervention at an important stage of the additive manufacturing process. This has allowed the company to compete with traditional injection molding enterprises for smaller production runs.
Voodoo founded their operation on being one of the first high volume 3D printing manufacturing company. They would like to be the additive manufacturing solution companies can use for their end-use parts and products. In an interview with Engineering.com Voodoo Manufacturing’s CEO and cofounder, Max Friefeld, detailed how he wanted to see 3D printing move beyond rapid prototyping and move into wider industrial use such as the metal components used in Aerospace and Medical manufacturing.
“The market of 3D printers has been built towards these high-end value, low-volume applications,” said Friefeld.“We kind of started two years ago with the opposite approach to go after low-volume, everyday plastic parts that you might get injection molded and shipped over from another country for use in your consumer product or device.” (http://bit.ly/2eHMoYr)
Voodoo Manufacturing is able to compete with the $162 billion injection molding market by utilizing affordable, off the shelf 3D printers which are relatively low cost compared to expensive industrial additive manufacturing machines. Currently, Voodoo has competitive prices for runs of up to 10,000 units using its series of print farms. Although, the company is working hard to make sure they will become economically viable for runs above the previously stated 10,000 units. “With Voodoo, there’s no up-front investment,” Friefeld said.“We can get started with the file and get your part the next day, or 10,000 parts in two weeks. We’re fast and we have very little startup costs with our process.” (http://bit.ly/2eHMoYr)
To help lower the costs further, Voodoo started a project dubbed, Project Skywalker. The new process involves incorporating a low cost robotic arm into the printing process. Right now the system is working with a cell of nine 3D printers and is handling the harvesting process which is when a completed job is removed from the printbed and the printer is prepared for the next job. This process only accounts for 10% of the total operation but by adding the robotic arm they were able to achieve a 24/7 3D printing operation.
Right now, the company is only running a single shift overnight to test the limits of the new technology but so far it’s going well. With the addition of Project Skywalker, all that’s left for the team at Voodoo to do when they come in every morning is clean, pack and ship the parts that were made overnight. According to Friefeld, the new process has resulted in a huge three times production boost for all the machines working with Project Skywalker.
Another essential piece to Voodoo’s toolkit is their software that runs all of the printer cells. In addition to Skywalker, the company developed software that partially automates the file preparation process. The tool helps the company speed up the orientation of the 3D model, determine the print settings and gets it started at the right time to meet customers needs. Voodoo is utilizing its software capabilities to network their Skywalker Project with the printers. The arm is currently notified when a printer finishes a job and a new print plate is loaded so that a new job can start without the need for human intervention.
This technology is fascinating and Project Skywalker has huge implications for the future of manufacturing. With companies big and small working on further automating the 3D printing process, the future of additive manufacturing looks bright.
For more on Voodoo Manufacturing don’t miss our interview with the CEO Max Friefeld. Manufacturing Talk Radio is keeping a close eye on all the developments at this amazing company so be sure to check back for more information.