Affordable 3D printers — Parallel robots catch on

Back in 2001, when I wrote my feature article Delta Parallel Robot — the Story of Success, Delta robots were already very popular and I knew at least a couple of non-engineers who liked building them from LEGO Mindstorms. A few years later, I helped Jamison Bruch, a young engineer from California eventually design a low-cost Delta robot. In June 2006, Novint launched their revolutionary Falcon haptic device based on the Delta robot. The device costs only $250 and I was certain that it would be a huge success, but I was wrong…

Meanwhile, the original Delta robot patents expired in Europe in December 2006 and in North America in December 2007. Dozens of companies now manufacture Delta robots for pick-and-place applications, as I recently wrote on this blog. However, Delta robots, and parallel robots in general, are still expensive, except probably the ones from TOSY Robotics, which seem unfortunately impossible to purchase in Canada.

Luckily, someone finally found a very popular application for parallel robots. A year ago, Johann Rocholl, a German software engineer working for Google in Seattle, shared the design of his innovative linear-actuator Delta robot 3D printer, called the Rostock:

The concept was quickly picked up by other rapid prototyping enthusiasts and a group from Indiana quickly got funded on Indigogo. Their version of Rocholl’s Deltabot, named the Rostock MAX, has been commercially available at SeeMeCNC for only $999.99. Another froup from Orlando (Florida) also got funded on Kickstarter, last February. Their company, DeltaMaker, promises to start shipping their first linear Deltas in September. The entry price of their 3D printer is only $1,799, nearly twice as expensive as the Rostock MAX, but more elegant. Currently, a third team is being funded on Kickstarter, OpenBeam Kossel Pro, offering yet another variant of the Rostock. Finally, a French firm is about to offer its own Rostock printer, named the SpiderBot.

Very recently, several other non-yet-commercial projects were publicly announced. There is Werner Berry’s BerryBot3D Printer, which is also a variant of the Rostock. Then, there is Quentin Harley from South Africa who came up with a novel 3D printer named RepRAP Morgan, based on a five-bar mechanism. I was, however, most impressed by the innovative parallel robot 3D printer made by Nicolas Seward, a high-school teacher in Arkansas:

Seward’s 3D printer is probably not better than any of the members of the Rostock family, but its truly original kinematic design is definitely worth a Master’s degree in robotics.

Parallel robots are definitely becoming mainstream. I wish I could contribute to exciting projects like these, rather than review scientific papers by the dozen… I must admit that while great parallel robot designs have originated in academia (think of Reymond Clavel’s Delta robot or François Pierrot’s Quattro robot), most interesting parallel kinematic designs come from industry.

Here is, however, one potentially winning candidate for 3D printing that comes from academia: the Tripteron, as I named it a decade ago. It was invented in Laval University, Canada, by my former supervisor, Prof. Clément Gosselin, and his student Xianwen Kong, now professor in Scotland. Its kinematic model and workspace are exactly the same as that of an XYZ stage. However, all three linear actuators are fixed to the base. Hopefully, the Tripteron could be the next big thing in 3D printing.



About Ilian Bonev

Professor at the ÉTS
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