Robot that Uses 3-D Printer Technology Can Make Printed Circuit Boards


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Phidias, LLC introduces a low cost machine that can produce virtually all components required to make complete, finished products. Derived from 3-D printer technology, the new machine, a Personal Manufacturing Robot, has a growing list of capabilities that includes making printed circuit boards, 3-D printing with plastics, pastes and foodstuffs and cutting vinyl.

“It's really exciting to see what's possible with Athena,” said Bas Wijnen, one of the company's founders and PhD student, speaking of the new robot. “When people see what it can do, they start thinking about what else they might do with it.”

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Athena, the personal manufacturing robot, was developed after university research investigating use of low cost, open-source 3-D printers demonstrated exceptionally high-value items could be produced for use in research laboratories.

“Research showed that open-source 3-D printers had incredible value, but it was clear that they were woefully underutilized robotic systems,” said Jerry Anzalone of Phidias, LLC. “The trick was to figure out how to make an inexpensive machine and software that could fully exploit the complex motion control systems that drive them. We've done that.”

Most consumer 3-D printers work by laying down thin layers of hot plastic on top of each other, with the new layer partially melting and binding with the layer below it. The part that moves around depositing the plastic is very light weight, so 3-D printers are usually designed to move only that sort of tool. They typically cannot move heavier tools, like spindles used for milling printed circuit boards, or pumps used to dispense pastes and food stuffs.

The new machine handles both light and heavy tools. It can be transformed from a conventional 3-D printer to a printed circuit board mill or a paste printer in less than a minute. Magnetic joints are used to connect many of the moving parts together and to secure different tools to perform a variety of tasks. Completely new software was developed to capitalize on this unprecedented flexibility.

Located in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Phidias, LLC develops and sells open-source hardware and software, specializing in technology that enables personal manufacturing. Its flagship personal manufacturing robot, Athena, is sold as a low-cost kit and made its debut November 2, 2015.

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