Nov 8, 2015 | By Benedict

Phidias, LLC, a Michigan based open-source hardware and software firm specialising in personal manufacturing technology, has unveiled its Athena 3D printer, an open-source RepRap device capable of performing a variety of functions. The Athena Personal Manufacturing Robot is able to 3D print with plastics, pastes and foodstuffs. It can also make printed circuit boards, cut vinyl, and perform a range of other technical tasks.

“It's really exciting to see what's possible with Athena,” said Bas Wijnen, PhD student and Phidias co-founder. “When people see what it can do, they start thinking about what else they might do with it.” To further the development of the adaptable 3D printer, the three-strong team which makes up Phidias has launched a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo to take the Athena into production. The team has set a goal of $150,000, with 45 days left to run at the time of writing.

After university research revealed that open-source 3D printers could produce exceptionally high-value laboratory items at a low cost, the team decided to create their own open-source, multifunctional machine. “Research showed that open-source 3D printers had incredible value, but it was clear that they were woefully under-utilised robotic systems,” said Jerry Anzalone, Wijnen’s colleague at Phidias. “The trick was to figure out how to make an inexpensive machine and software that could fully exploit the complex motion control systems that drive them. We've done that.”

One of the Athena’s most valuable attributes is its ability to effectively wield both light and heavy parts within a single system. Whilst 3D printer nozzles are extremely lightweight, allowing for rapid and precise movement, spindles used for milling printed circuit boards and pumps used for dispensing pastes and foodstuffs are much heavier. This is because they require a greater resilience than a 3D printing nozzle, without the need for such rapidity. Whilst many commercially available 3D printers would be unable to support the weight of a spindle or pump, the Athena can effectively handle both the lightweight precision of a 3D printer nozzle and the heavier bulk of a mill spindle or paste dispenser.

Additionally, the Athena can be transformed from a 3D printer to a mill or paste dispenser in less than a minute, by detaching and reattaching the magnetically connected parts. To support this physical versatility in practice, the Phidias team wrote entirely new software, called Franklin, which is able to precisely control each form of 3D printing, cutting or plotting.

As well as being able to print with typical plastic filaments such as PLA and ABS, the Athena can 3D print intricate designs using materials like silicone, mashed potatoes, ceramic, and frosting. Phidias is therefore presenting its machine as a valuable tool for the laboratory, workshop, kitchen and more besides. The machine can be programmed to draw precisely, and can cut vinyl stickers and fabrics, making it an extremely useful product for small design enterprises.

Being a RepRap 3D printer, the Athena is comprised of open-source hardware and software, and is capable of 3D printing its own parts. The Phidias team is constantly designing and producing additional parts for the Athena, all of which are produced on the Athena’s near-identical sister 3D printer, the Delta4, which is able to print on four platforms simultaneously. Phidias plans to continue producing new parts for their kits using this method.

Despite being a relatively young company, Phidias has already gone about setting up its Athena 3D printers in a number of locations. With help from Square One Education Network, The Shop Rat Foundation and 3D4EDU, LLC, the team has already helped 60 high school and middle school teachers to set up the versatile 3D printer in classrooms, for students to learn from and experiment with. A further 50 printers were built by students for a college course.

Since the Athena is an open-source 3D printer, users are able to download its Franklin software for free, and source their own hardware independently. However, to continue the project’s development, Phidias require support from users and backers. Their Indiegogo campaign allows makers to purchase Athena kits, each tested and compatible with the Franklin software. For the basic hardware kit, which includes the Athena’s tool, effector and printer head for 3D printing, backers need to contribute $600. Naturally, the 3D printing function allows user to print further tools for use with the printer itself. For $1200, customers can order the complete kit, which includes the aforementioned components as well as a fixed tool mount, all the parts for building the printer’s main tool, a pen/tangent knife holder, a spindle tool and a syringe pump tool. Further in-between options are also available. Phidias expects to ship their kits by November 2016.



Posted in 3D Printer



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