Some of the latest and greatest robots are inspired by nature’s creepiest, crawliest critters—or, at least that’s what German automation company Festo seems to believe. Their research and development team has unveiled yet another insect-inspired robotic design. After constructing small, 3D-printed BionicANTs that work together to accomplish big tasks, and eMotionButterflies that fly pre-programmed routes, Festo is now showing the 3D Cocooner, a new 3D printer that takes a cue from caterpillars to print shapes that are free from the constraints of a gantry or printbed.
The 3D Cocooner combines a specially designed spinneret, glass fibers and a photopolymer to 3D print freeform objects without support structures or the need to build on top of previously printed layers, as is the case with many 3D printing technologies. Attached to a large tripod and a kinematic arm system is a custom extrusion device through which glass fiber thread is fed. As the glass fiber is extruded, it is laminated with a UV-curing resin. Cured with a UV light at the head of this caterpillar-inspired spinneret, the fiber hardens into stiff rods.
After a 3D model is developed with custom parametric design software, the spinneret is programmed to follow a set design of design rules within certain parameters to ensure a structurally sound shape. According to Festo, their custom software can easily be manipulated by even a novice user. The software has been programmed to first virtually simulate the printing process, with variables such as speed, thread feed and the amount of resin set up appropriately. Once all of this is prepped, the 3D Cocooner prints the object, using 3D animation in Cinema 4D software to actually drive the mechanics of the device.
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