Today with 3D printing you can make almost anything in a matter of hours. However, making sure that part works reliably takes weeks or even months.
Sandia National Laboratories has designed and built a six-sided work cell, similar to a circular desk, with a commercial robot at its center that conducts high-throughput testing to quickly determine the performance and properties of the part.
They call this flexible, modular and scalable system Alinstante, Spanish for “in an instant.” Sandia is seeking industry partners to help expand or discover more uses for the new robotic testing system.
Designing a modular, flexible work cell
The commercial robot sits in the center of the hexagonal work cell with up to six “petal” work stations around it. Each work station can have a different commercial or custom testing systems, and the work stations can be swapped in and out depending on the kind of tests needed. Also, because of the hexagonal shape, multiple petals can be combined in a honeycomb-like structure. That allows handoffs from petal to petal to provide almost limitless testing scalability.
Sandia mechanical engineer Ross Burchard led the design of the work cell. In 2016, Burchard and an intern explored many different physical configurations before settling on the hexagonal petal design.
“My challenge was: How do you come up with a work cell with one robot and multiple testing stations that’s also modular and scalable?” said Burchard. Once the configuration was selected, Burchard and his team built the first work cell. They adapted commercially available hardware wherever possible for efficiency and to save money.
In addition to constructing the hexagonal floor plate and pedestal for the commercial robot, the team installed safety light curtains wherever a person and the robot might interact. The light curtains are set up so that if a person reaches into the work cell, or if the robotic arm reaches out of the work cell, the light beam is broken and the robot automatically stops.
“Safety is always our No. 1 concern,” said Tim Blada, the roboticist who is leading the design of the software interface. “Every line of code we write, every piece of mechanical fixturing we do, is always safety first. ‘How is this safe? Can I do this without risking any injuries?’”
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