11 Aug 2022

Energy chain guidance system ensures safe robot 3D printing

A triflex R energy chain filled with chainflex cables ensures fail-safe operation of the XXL 3D printer.

Whether creating unique store concepts, futuristic concrete stairs and modern building facades, Dutch architectural design company Aectual produces very special architectural projects with the help of its robot-driven XXL 3D printer.

Aectual manufactures custom-made floor coverings, features, walls, and stairs that create a special, visual experience. Using 3D printing, Aectual can realise even the most complicated concepts of designers, project developers, builders and architects. These printed works of art can be found, for example, in Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, where 2000m² of floor space with an integrated floor guidance system adorn the airport concourse. The facades and interior elements are manufactured with the printer, one of the largest of its kind in Europe, and the only printer of its size that runs “lights-out” – remotely without server access.

For reliable “lights-out” robot operation, the designers opted for highly flexible Chainflex cables in a Triflex R energy chain with a pneumatic retraction system. In the seventh axis, an E4/light energy guide supplies the robot with energy and data.

The robot can print at speeds of up to 0.5m/s. Aectual’s material extrusion technology is integrated directly into the robot. The raw material or granulate, which consists of bio-based or recycled material, is melted in the extruder and pushed directly into the push nozzle via a screw. The extruder uses several different sensors and driven components to control the process.

When laying the material, using analogue and digital signal cables proved to be a challenge. The many cables should be arranged as compactly and robustly as possible to maintain lights-out operation. Motion plastics specialist Igus supplied the cable protection system with its energy chains and cables.

“With the help of Chainflex robot cables, we were able to make our system cleaner, more reliable and more efficient,” explains Hedwig Heinsman, Co-Founder & Chief Commercial Officer at Aectual. “Since all cables have the same connectors, they can be easily replaced when they need to be changed. The design also gives us the opportunity to equip our extruder with other digital manufacturing tools in the future.”

All cables are guided safely by a Triflex R energy chain, which is specially developed for three-dimensional applications on robots. It ensures there are no line twists or fails. Aectual relies on a pneumatic retraction system (RSP) to retract the cables on the robot head. “In this way, we guarantee safe guidance of the cables and hoses even with large arm diameters and very complex movements,” says Justin Leonard, e-chains director at Igus UK. “The retraction forces are infinitely adjustable to the individual application by using a pneumatic cylinder.”

As well as the six axes of the robot, Aectual also relies on Igus motion plastics products for supplying power to the robot’s seventh axis, where the developers use an E4/light energy chain to move the cables safely.