The Big Print
Updated: Oct 26, 2021
With the digital model finally ready for printing, I first had to learn how to navigate and operate the 3D printing robot.
Over the course of a few days, I learned to start up the robot and to maneuver, or "jog" the robot using a teach pendant. I was trained to load programs onto the controller, and to start, operate, and monitor a 3D print. I also learned protocols such as e-stops to ensure that I was safe during the print.
After I was comfortable with the robot, I started test printing a few layers at a time to get a feel for the movement and timing of the robot, since I would be working in close proximity.
About the Robot:
The 3D printing robot is a beta version of the Teraform Polaris 3D printing system developed and manufactured by AI SpaceFactory. The robot model is an ABB IRB-6700, with a payload of 245kg and reach of 3.0m.
The material that was used for the print is glass-filled polypropylene, a type of composite plastic which comes in pellets. The polypropylene came from recycled sources.
I chose to print the upper half of the brain first since it was more complex and was going to take longer.
The main problem first arose when the print got stuck and kept streaming too much plastic in the same place. This was an error in the code that had to be sorted out. Because of this, a continuously running print wasn't possible until an hour or so later.
After the error in the code was finally fixed, the print started to run smoothly.
However, due to the complex geometry of the brain, it meant that there were a lot of overhangs and sharp corners that required pushing, pulling, and pressing down excess material. Even with the robotics, there was a lot of manual tending necessary for the print. While it is not technically safe to be close to a robotic printer, the system is designed to print slowly to minimize risk. Still, it is imperative to not get close to the extruder or the print material because it is very hot- 175 degrees C to be exact.
The same process was repeated for the second half of the brain. This print took less time but required more attention as the overhangs were more severe.
In a total of 8 hours over two days, the 2 parts of the brain were fully printed.