3D printed parts tested “instantaneously” by Sandia’s Alinstante robot cell

Alinstante is an automated 3D printed part testing robot
developed at Sandia
National Laboratories
. Taking its name from the Spanish
translation of “in an instant,” the aim of Alinstante is
to speed up the part qualification process which is, at
present, an important barrier to the adoption of additive
manufacturing.

Made as a modular work cell, Alinstante is versatile and
scaleable. Further still, Sandia engineers believe, that the
robot could theoretically ‘run forever’ with minimal human
input.

Automated qualification on the Alinstante system. Clip via Sandia National LaboratoriesAutomated qualification on the
Alinstante system. Clip via Sandia National Laboratories

Qualification in the hive

At present, an Alistante unit consists of six walls, each
corresponding to potential work stations. The walls are
arranged in a hexagonal formation around a central robotic arm.

At this development stage, the Sandia team have proved
Alistante’s ability to service three different stations.

From the input station, the robotic arm picks up a plate
containing a 3D printed part. From here, it is delivered either
for metrology, of destructive testing.

In the metrology station, researchers fixed an
off-the-shelf  structured light 3D scanner. In this
module, a 3D scan is taken of the finished part which can then
be compared to its original 3D design to determine any
inconsistencies.

In a load frame, the part can undergo tensile or compression
testing, to find out how it breaks.

Are robots taking over?

In recent years, the 3D printing industry has seen many
projects seeking to ramp up the capabilities of 3D printing for
series production. To name just a handful, there
is: Formlabs’
Form Cell
, the
3D Systems’ Figure 4 configuration
, and
Voodoo Manufacturing’s Project Skywalker
.

By employing robots to do menial tasks, like post-processing,
engineers are freed-up to do the kind of thinking that machines
aren’t capable of.

Sandia materials scientist Brad Boyce
explains
the idea: “Friday afternoon you tell the 3D
printer ‘I want you to print this part 10 different ways and
then go test each one. You come to come back Monday morning and
Alinstante tells you which process was the best.

“Let the robot do all the logistics work and get the human
out of the loop except for making the important engineering
decisions.”

Tim Blada, a Sandia roboticist who worked on the Alinstante
project adds, “In theory you could run this thing forever, if
you had enough parts.”

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Featured image shows Sandia materials scientist Brad
Boyce and the Alinstante systems. Photo via Sandia National
Laboratories 

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