A problem that affects many 3D printers is a lack of portability. 3D printers with the most advanced features, highest resolutions and largest build volumes tend to be large and heavy, which makes moving them around a real chore. In response to this issue, most manufacturers of 3D printers have taken the same approach, by making compact models of their printers which downgrade or downsize certain components. But what if there was another way to increase the portability of a 3D printer, one which would not require the elimination or downgrading of any components? Could a designer completely reinvent the wheel for mobile 3D printing? Robert Flitsch, a former student at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, considered this very question when using a range of bulky 3D printers during his studies, and the solution upon which he came is as simple as it is brilliant: Flitsch put 3D printers on wheels.
The imaginative engineer recently launched a startup named Addibots (additive manufacturing robots), which will specialize in the development and production of mobile 3D printing robots. “By making the additive manufacturing components completely mobile, you break free of all the workspace limitations of 3D printing,” Flitsch said. “But Addibots also greatly opens the field to many new application spaces for additive manufacturing.”
Far from being regular 3D printers with wheels tacked underneath, Addibots will use their vehicular properties to complete rewrite the rulebook on 3D printing. The mobile 3D printers, which will offer both R/C and autonomous modes, will be equipped with a series of printheads on their undercarriage. These printheads will enable the Addibots to print, in a range of materials, directly onto the ground upon which they drive. “Once you get rid of that confined workspace and you make the world your workspace, there is no telling what you can do,” Flitsch enthused.
Flitsch, a serious hockey fan, first designed the 3D printing robots to drive over the surface of an ice hockey rink, resurfacing areas which had been chipped by skates. These special ice-extruding Addibots paved the way for the multi-purpose, multi-material machines now in development. “I soon realized that the best thing about this technology is that it is really only limited by what you can think up,” Flitsch explained.
Following on from the successful ice rink prototype, the designer set about redesigning the machine for the purpose of resurfacing roads with a range of different materials. Flitsch believes that his mobile 3D printers could help public works departments meet the demand for improved roads, assisting rather than replacing road workers. “Road resurfacing Addibots would also be a great way to move caustic materials, like tar, farther away from the people who would be working on the roads,” Flitsch added.
Flitsch has already set the wheels in motion for his promising startup, and is currently seeking funding. The engineer hopes to have Addibots on the market within one to three years.