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Robotic cocoon-spinner challenges 3D printing

06 April, 2016

The German manufacturer Festo has developed a technology that uses a robot to “spin” interconnected fibreglass webs to create 3D structures. The technology, called 3D Cocooner, is inspired by the way that insects spin their cocoons and is the latest in a series of nature-based technologies that Festo has developed in recent years. It will make its public debut at this month’s Hannover Fair in Germany.

The 3D structure is designed using software that generates the instructions for a tripod robot to create the shape using a “spinneret” that produces filaments of fibreglass resin that are hardened using an LED UV source, also carried by the robot. The filaments can be interconnected to create complex 3D structures. If required, they can be cut and re-attached to other parts of the structure.

“Just like a caterpillar, it spins filigree figures and customised lightweight structures from a fibreglass thread,” explains Dr Elias Knubben, Festo’s head of corporate bionic projects. “The spinneret is precisely controlled by means of a handling system. As soon as they leave the spinneret, the sticky fibreglass threads are laminated with UV-hardening resin and are joined together to form complex structures.”

Unlike conventional 3D (additive) printing techniques, the structures are not built-up layer by layer, but are created freely in three-dimensional space, allowing large, complex structures to be created relatively quickly. “This is something quite special,” says Knubben.

The current version can produce filaments at a rate of 10mm per second, and can operate in a volume of 450 x 300 x 600mm.

Festo's 3D Cocooner creates complex lattice shapes directly from a design program
Photo: Festo AG & Co. KG

Because the 3D Cocooner’s design program conveys the manufacturing instructions directly to the tool level, there is a digital chain from the initial concept to the finished product, avoiding the usual sales, production and logistics steps.

Knubben suggests that, in future, the structures could be covered with foil or fabrics to create enclosed objects.

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