Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Ford uses mobile robots to operate 3D printers without human help

Engineers at Ford’s Advanced Manufacturing Center have tasked the innovative robot on wheels – called Javier – with operating the 3D printers completely on its own. The autonomous process enables the 3D printer to run continuously with no human interaction needed, increasing throughput and reducing the cost of custom-printed products.

Ford says Javier is always on time, very precise in its movements, mostly spends its day doing nothing but 3D printing, only taking a “short break” to recharge the batteries. The company has achieved great accuracy with Javier, using its feedback to significantly reduce margins of error. The method can also be applied to a vast array of robots already working at the company to increase efficiency and reduce cost.

Ford has filed several patents for the technology in its drive to innovate. Javier can communicate with Ford’s 3D printer, something that isn’t necessarily as easy to pull off as it sounds. The robot does not require the use of a camera vision system to “see.”

Innovative Ford communication system enables different pieces of equipment from various suppliers to “speak the same language” and send constant feedback to each other. This innovative communication is what makes the whole process possible.

Javier enables Ford to operate its 3D printers all night long, even after employees have left for the day. Not only does this increase throughput, but it also reduces the cost of custom-printed products. Ford has used the printer to make low-volume, custom parts, such as a brake line bracket for the Performance Package-equipped Mustang Shelby GT500.

Though the process itself is autonomous, the operators are responsible for uploading 3D designs to the printer and maintaining the machinery.