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3D Printer as Robot: The Functograph

A 3D printer is really a specialized form of robot. Sure, it isn’t exactly Data from Star Trek, but it isn’t too far from many industrial robots. Researchers from Meiji University made the same observation and decided to create a 3D printer that could swap a hot end for other types of robotic manipulators. They call their creation the Functgraph. (Video, embedded below.)

Some of the tasks the Functgraph can do including joining printed parts into an assembly, breaking support material, and more. The surprise twist is that — unlike traditional tool change schemes — the printer prints its own end effectors together with the print job and picks them up off the build plate.

The printer is a pretty stock CR-10 with two additions. There is a system on the X carriage to pick up a printed end effector, and there is also a tower on the side of the printer for dropping off an end-effector after use. The attachment point uses a barb so that pressing down mates the attachment arm to the part. Then raising the Z axis lifts the part off the build surface.

The team shows different techniques to use custom-shaped hooks to break away support, fold printed parts together, or remove parts from the build plate and relocate them.

We wonder if this would be better if you had a SCARA arm sitting next to a 3D printer, although we admit that might be less flexible in theory. Not that the idea of using two robots to print is totally new.

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