Batch.Works design and make products using digital tools such as CNC milling machines and 3D printers. They’re trying to develop processes that allow small-scale makers to manufacture at higher rates, approaching the speed and cost-efficiency of mass-manufacturing techniques.
“The funny thing we found about using digital machines,” explains Bahnan, “is that often the person using it becomes a machine themselves after the 50th lampshade it had lost its novelty.”
Each time the 3D printer had finished an object, it had to be manually removed from the build plate, checked for defects, and then the printer would be fired up again for the next object.
“What started as an intention to get our hands dirty boiled down to machine minding which didn’t feel a lot like making, ” Bahnan continues. “After the 300th we knew something had to be done.”
What they actually did is ingenious. They hacked an Ultimaker 2+ 3D printer into a perpetual printing machine, allowing them to reliably print product after product. This enabled them to leave their machines to operate unattended while they continued to work on other things.
HOW IS IT REDISTRIBUTIVE?
Current digital fabrication processes often need human intervention to set up the machines, check they’re running smoothly, remove finished products and then reset the machine for another pass. This is fine for very small runs, or for prototyping, but for larger batches it soon becomes a frustrating experience for the human operator, and a costly way to produce.
Batch.Works are developing a technique they call Auto Print to automate all stages of the 3D printing process. So as well as laying down the plastic to form the product, the machine can also prepare the printing bed, maintain smooth running while making multiple prints, and push finished prints off the bed into a basket for the next stage of the process.
They’ve developed the ‘perpetual printing’ technique from the open source community, and they’re sharing it back under a Creative Commons licence.
WHAT ARE THE BARRIERS TO MAINSTREAM SUCCESS?
Small-scale local production is at a disadvantage to mass-manufacturing due to the cost and time involved in human labour throughout the process, from the arrival of raw materials, to the packaging of finished goods. Batch.Works are addressing one stage in this process. Can other stages be optimised so they can compete on cost with mass manufacture without making sacrifices to the quality of products, working conditions, or the local environment?
- Kniterate: Another tool in the ‘desktop microfactory’ class
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Batch Works use Ultimaker 2+ as a Perpetual Printing Machine
Bulent Yusuf, All3DP, July 2017