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Print & Assemble—the Future of AM?

While this technology for home 3D printers may be functioning on a small scale, the pick-and-place concept could hold potential for larger industrial applications.

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Remember the Strati car from IMTS? The car chassis and body were 3D printed on the show floor with a Cincinnati Incorporated Big Area Additive Manufacturing Machine (BAAM) out of carbon-reinforced ABS plastic. The printing phase took 44 hours over the first two days of the show, and was followed by a day of milling to refine the print. A team led by Local Motors then spent several more days integrating the non-printed mechanical components such as the motor and battery to make the car drivable.

Those mechanical components probably won’t be produced by a 3D printer in the near future, but what if they could be installed by the printer? That would eliminate the need for a human assembly stage, possibly saving time, and open the door for integrating components into areas that may be inaccessible in the final print. Furthermore, it would mean the ability to produce a fully functional product in one setup.

That was the idea behind Buzz Technology UK’s Industrial Revolution III (IR3) 3D printer, which picks and places non-printable components such as wheels, motors and rechargeable battery packs within a 3D-printed build. Development of the printer itself was shelved following a Kickstarter campaign that went unfunded earlier this year, but the company now plans to offer its pick-and-place technology as a retrofit kit for new and existing 3D printers. Though intended mainly for consumer use, it’s easy to see how this print-and-assemble concept might also be applied for production additive applications, such as building wiring into a prosthetic hand or audio speaker components into custom headphones.