Cloud-based system automates 3D printing

Article By : EDN Asia

Commercially launched last April, the printer is now used at more than 100 businesses and schools, primarily as an education tool.

Massachusetts-based New Valence Robotics (NVBots), a 3D-printing start-up born out of MIT, has brought to market a fully automated commercial 3D printer that features cloud-based queuing and automatic part removal—making print jobs easier and quicker for multiple users.

To use the printer, called NVPro, a user submits a project from any device, which queues up in the NVCloud software. When a part gets printed, a retractable blade cuts the piece out and moves it into a bin and the next project begins automatically. Projects can be monitored remotely via webcam.

Commercially launched last April, the printer is now used at more than 100 businesses and schools, primarily as an education tool, according to the start-up. Over the past year, there have been more than 84,000 prints, saving more than 165,000 labour hours.

The start-up's research arm, NVLabs, is improving security, analysing big data, working with materials and improving human-robotic interfaces for 3D printing. In January, NVLabs spun out Digital Alloys, a start-up developing high-speed, multimetal manufacturing systems that run at lower costs than traditional systems.

The company envisions a world in which 3D printing is as easy and commonplace as printing on paper—and perhaps more globally accessible, said chair and co-founder Alfonso Perez, noting that NVLabs and Digital Alloys plans to bring even more innovations to 3D printing.

Digital Alloys is developing a new print head that allows for multimetal prints at significantly higher speeds than traditional methods, for aerospace, defence and automotive applications, according to the start-up.

Traditionally, metal printing systems are a layer-by-layer slog. One layer of powder, about 20μm to 50μm thick, gets spread across a plate. A laser positioned above the plate melts one layer of powder to the layer below. This repeats until the object is complete. Digital Alloys’ process uses thicker wire as the material, which builds up more quickly. The industry leader for metal printing produces 2kg per day, while Digital Alloys produces 20kg, Perez says.

NVLabs is gathering data on NVBots printers to improve performance. Each time a user prints, the start-up gathers data on the job’s success, quality, length, and material, among other information. Since launch, the start-up has generated 3.8TB of data related to the manufacturing process. The lab is also tackling security issues, improving human-machine interfaces and, as a major challenge, enabling 3D printing with any plastic.

“There’s a crazy world of polymers that can be used for printing,” Perez said. “That’s a big aspect of what we’re working on.”

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