Desktop 3D printers are driving additive manufacturing towards the mainstream consumer market. It’s not yet affordable enough or easy enough to use for mass market adoption but small businesses and the enthusiast maker community have had their hands on this hardware for several years now. So why not also put robotic arm technology at a price-point that’s also within their grasp?
That’s the aim of startup Flux Integration, which is hoping — via the medium of crowdfunding — to bring its multifunctional robotic arm (on show in prototype form in the above Indiegogo video) to market as a prototyping aid for small businesses, maker shops, labs and the like. It’s looking for $50,000 in crowdfunding to ship arms to backers, and at the time of writing has pulled in more than $36,000 with another 13 days left on its campaign clock.
The price for the articulated arm started at $1,799 for a handful of early backers, although it’s now stepped up to $1,999 or more. That’s still far undercutting the price of low-cost precision robotic arms, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Flux says it’s able to squeeze costs here by using some off the shelf parts to build its robotic arm, and by automating manufacturing and calibration processes.
The FLX.ARM.S16.Z8, to give it its full title, can perform multiple tasks — including 3D printing — thanks to two factors: its ability to move along both an X-Y plane and a Z-Axis — with vertical movement using an additional actuator to maintain rigidity. (The overall reach of the arm, so its configurable workspace, is currently 16 inches in the X-Y plane and 8 inches of travel on the Z-Axis.) And also a system of modular toolheads. Toolhead modularity allows the user to swap out one type of head to alter the arm’s functionality.
Flux’s current set of toolheads are a 3D printing toolhead (capable of printing at a 100 micron layer height); one for light milling (including for cutting woods, plastic and acrylic, metals such as copper and brass, wax and foam); a probe for making precision measurements; and a pick and place head for electronics assembly. It says more toolheads are in development. And also intends to provide a template to support custom heads — so a highly extensible platform is the plan.
On the software side, Flux has developed a client-server architecture — which means its high-performance servers take the processing strain and the client only requires a WebGL enabled browser. Its design and manufacturing software will support features such as 3D CAD and 3D PCB layout and visualization.