One of the main issues encountered with a 3D printed objects is the amount of finishing work that is required to remove excess material. Many 3D printer projects require “overhangs” to have a support structure which has to be removed afterwards by a manual worker. This extra human intervention slows down production, increases costs and material use.
iRobot’s design for an all-in-one 3D printer submitted to the USPTO turns 3D printing on its head by removing the limitation of printing on a horizontal base layer by providing two robotic arm manipulators that can orientate the printing object in a six-axis workspace. This allows the 3D print head to deposit material on all planes of the object, not just horizontally layer-on-layer. Think of it as a inverse six-axis CNC machine.
With the ability to orientate the object during 3D printing should eliminate the need for overhand support structures. The design features two manipulator arms, one for the item being printed and another to orientate any components that need to be fused to the main object. Additionally the tool-head features a fused deposition modeling print head, a milling head, and a robocasting extruder.
A patent has not yet been granted and there is no indication that iRobot have a working prototype that demonstrates their concept. A 3D printer that does not depend on single-plane printing is a natural progression for this new technology, and some industry commentators are even saying that this is an overly vague patent which is just being submitted to generate patent licensing income in the future.