Mar 15, 2017 | By Benedict

Brooklyn-based 3D printing company Voodoo Manufacturing has completed Project Skywalker, a fully functional robot-operated 3D printer cluster consisting of nine 3D printers and a robotic arm. The system can automatically remove and replace a 3D printer’s build plate when a print is completed.

It would be fair to say that Voodoo Manufacturing is swimming against the current in the 3D printing world. In an industry where small-batch production, one-off bespoke parts, and unique items are the order of the day, Voodoo Manufacturing is one of the few companies in the U.S.—and perhaps the word—that is doing things totally differently. Not in terms of its individual 3D printers, which the company describes as “regular” FDM printers, but in terms of how those 3D printers are used.

Voodoo Manufacturing is doing things differently by building a number of “robotic factories” that consist of several (sometimes hundreds) of 3D printers joined together. These 3D printing systems, or “clusters,” can be used to print huge numbers of a single part, providing all the technical advantages of a 3D printed object while defying the assumption that 3D printing can only be used for small-batch production.

Today, Voodoo Manufacturing announced an exciting new addition to its repertoire. The delightfully named Project Skywalker is being billed as the “first fully functional robot-operated 3D printer cluster,” a system capable of “harvesting” completed prints by removing and replacing the build plate once each object is complete. The company said that this act of removing and replacing the built plate took up around 15% of their employees’ time, making it a process ripe for automation.

According to Voodoo Manufacturing, Skywalker consists of nine 3D printers mounted on server racks, a track where the robot can deposit harvested plates to be collected by employees, and a plate “hopper” that feeds new, clean plates to the robot as needed. The 3D printers and the robotic arm are kept in sync by dedicated software, ensuring that “harvesting” takes place as soon as a print is finished, and that the next print begins as soon as harvesting is complete.

“Seeing it fully operational for the first time was amazing,” explained Jonathan Schwartz, co-founder and Chief Product Officer at Voodoo Manufacturing. “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%.”

And while the Voodoo team is happy with Project Skywalker, the system is by no means the final destination for the company. Voodoo’s ultimate aim is to create a “lights-out” system that can autonomously carry out the entire 3D printing process unmanned. (When the lights are out and everybody has clocked off.) The company thinks this kind of system will allow it to fabricate large quantities of 3D printed parts at a low cost and with short lead times, making it a serious rival to injection molding, a technique widely seen as more efficient for large-batch production.

“We had to prove to ourselves that we could pull this off,” said Max Friefeld, co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Voodoo Manufacturing. “Honestly, the results blew me away. This is the future of how we will run our factory. Our goal is to reduce costs by 90% and compete with injection molding for runs of up to 100,000 units.”

While the decision to name the system “Project Skywalker” remains something of a mystery (is it the robotic arm? the force? the lightsaber?), it is clear what Voodoo Manufacturing is trying to do with this complex, automated 3D printing factory. The company is confident not only in its own future success, but that its success will prompt a major overhaul of how the 3D printing industry works.

“We are excited to participate in what we view as a fundamental industry transition that will define the way we make things for the foreseeable future,” Schwartz added. “However, this will most certainly create a new world economy where manual labor becomes automated in the majority of factories. We respect that this is a problem, so we all have a lot to talk about.”

Perhaps they’re right: in the future, these Brooklyn innovators might not be swimming against the current at all.



Posted in 3D Printer



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Paul wrote at 3/15/2017 5:49:05 PM:

What is really awesome about this voodoo set up is that is is perfect for starting a small business....rise the 3d printer entrepreneurs !! I wonder how well it beats the economics of having a person wrangle the 3d printers for small back production of products?

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