A robot cell installed by CNC Robotics at Autodesk’s Advanced Design & Manufacturing Facility in Birmingham was used to manufacture part of the hull for a 3D-printed boat, which was launched at last year’s Genoa International Boat Show. With a striking design that includes wave-inspired sides and a finlike form that tapers toward the stern, MAMBO (motor additive manufacturing boat) is a boat like no other, both in its distinctive looks and in the way in which it was manufactured from fibre-reinforced plastic by 3D printing
Milan-based Moi Composites collaborated on the design of the boat with Autodesk, which provided its Fusion 360 and Netfabb software. Sections of the hull were constructed in Birmingham and Milan using continuous-fibre manufacturing with robots on both sites. This 3D-printing process gives greater durability and performance, while also saving material. In addition, the boat’s design is no longer restricted by the traditional manufacturing process, creating exciting new possibilities for designers.
This latest project continues a relationship that has developed since the formation of CNC Robotics in 2010, and has helped the company to become established as the UK’s leading supplier of robots for machining applications. “An important part of CNC Robotics’ evolution has been our strong relationships with our partners,” said Managing Director, Philippa Glover. “I believe that the key to success for UK Manufacturing is developing and maintaining these close relationships.”
CNC Robotics had its origins in 2008 when founder Jason Barker was searching for a solution for machining large scale props to use in his scenery-construction company based in Liverpool. When a cost-effective solution couldn’t be found, Jason set out on a two-year program of research and development, and created a robot-machining system that could create large-scale props quickly and accurately. Following his own success, Jason realised there was huge potential to use robots as milling machines, not only in the entertainment industry but also in other applications that needed a cost-effective method for large-scale machining.
As part of the development process, he was aware that an easier programming system would be needed for robots to fulfil their potential in machining and so approached several CAM companies. “I had an initial meeting with Delcam staff who were developing a dedicated program for machining with robots. I was convinced that this was the key relationship I had been looking for,” Jason recalled. “Working with a team based in Birmingham made it easier to collaborate than it would have been with an overseas developer. In addition, the company had a good reputation for customer support, which I felt would be essential when introducing the new technology to customers that had little or no experience of using robots for manufacturing.”
Recognising the benefits of collaboration as part of its growth journey, CNC Robotics formed a close partnership with the staff at Birmingham that continued following the 2014 acquisition of the company by Autodesk. The integration and use of the CAM software in the majority of its systems has enabled key knowledge and expertise in an already specialist area to be developed, ensuring that the CNC Robotics staff remain at the forefront of the technology.
Under the partnership, Jason undertook testing of the software and provided feedback to the program’s developers. He also supplied the first robot to the Birmingham site to enable further software testing to be undertaken there.
As CNC Robotics expanded its business, the two companies worked together with a growing number of customers. The combination of the robotics knowledge of Jason and his team, and the software and machining expertise in Birmingham ensured successful applications across many different industries and processes.
The partners also aligned on marketing initiatives to promote the benefits of using robots for machining applications, including mounting joint demonstrations of the technology at trade shows and exhibitions.
The collaboration continued following the acquisition by Autodesk. In the years following the acquisition, Autodesk invested millions in the Birmingham site, culminating in the opening of a new Advanced Design & Manufacturing Facility in February 2018. This houses a range of advanced manufacturing tools allowing Autodesk to collaborate with its customers, helping them to solve some of their biggest challenges and to push the boundaries of manufacturing techniques.
A robot-machining system, part of CNC Robotics M-series, is based on two KUKA robots, supplied and integrated by CNC Robotics. This was among the new equipment added to the Birmingham site, and is now one of the first things that visitors see from the reception area. The capabilities of the system are used for software testing, and for a huge variety of projects, from advanced machining research to fun demonstrations, including producing a giant chocolate rabbit as part of Easter celebrations.
CNC Robotics has also continued to partner with Autodesk on its marketing of robot technology. One highlight was a unique interactive challenge at the Autodesk University event in London in 2018. Noting that 2018 was both a World Cup year and the Year of the Engineer, the companies decided to bring football and robotics together for the first time with a robot goalkeeper challenge. Conference attendees were able to test their accuracy and speed with a football by scoring against the robot.
The robot goalkeeper was also featured in a number of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) events for schoolchildren to raise their awareness of the career opportunities in manufacturing, engineering, technology and automation.
Similarly, the team at CNC Robotics continues to support the development of the software. Work is now underway to include support for machining with robots in the advanced manufacturing capabilities of Autodesk’s Fusion 360 cloud-based tool for product development.