Learn the details on additive manufacturing at Leo Rover and what it offers you.
3D printing is a field under never-ending development (like any field, actually). Not only is it present in industrial applications but it seems to be a thing for robotics enthusiasts (not to use the word „nerds”, but you get the picture ;)) to have their own 3D printers at home. So why not learn a thing or two about how it’s done at Leo Rover?
At Leo Rover, 3D printing is done using the FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) method, sometimes referred to as FFF (Fused Filament Fabrication).
It’s one of the most, if not THE most common 3D printing technique due to numerous printers available on the market. FDM works by melting the material and extruding it through a nozzle to 3D print a cross-section of an object, one layer at a time. For each new layer, either the printer’s bed or the nozzle is lowered (depending on the type of the printer) and the whole process is repeated building layer-upon-layer till the object is fully formed.
Sometimes, depending on the model’s shape, support structures need to be added to act as a scaffolding of sorts to sustain the object during printing, for instance, if a given model has steep overhanging features.
We use the FDM method as it’s considered the simplest way to 3D print and it’s also reasonably efficient, accessible, and inexpensive. In addition, it’s easy to scale, plus, it’s an incredibly versatile method as we can change a particular element’s design without the need to adjust the whole printer to it – we just implement a new command and voila.
When it comes to the type of material, we print with PLA (polylactic acid or polylactide). It’s one of the most widely used materials in FDM 3D printing. It’s eco-friendly, biodegradable, and doesn’t emit smelly fumes while printing as it’s made from renewable resources such as sugar cane, corn starch, or tapioca roots, contrary to other industrial materials that are primarily petroleum-based.
PLA is low cost, relatively strong, and available in a wide array of blends and colors. It’s easy to use, with minimal warping issues, and great print quality. Thanks to its low printing temperature, there’s no need for a high-temperature heated print bed or a closed chamber while printing with PLA as some other materials would require. This, altogether, makes it the go-to filament for both beginners and standard users in 3D printing, ourselves included :). Every component of the Leo Rover robot that is 3D printed is made of PLA. The material simply meets all our necessary requirements and was the obvious choice for 3D printing elements in the Leo Rover platform.
The PLA filament has its drawbacks, though, but it’s not really a problem for us. The thing is, PLA’s temperature resistance isn’t great. The material becomes soft in high temperatures, mostly between 50 and 60oC and then, might be susceptible to deforming. Unless you intend to get your Leo Rover subjected to such temperatures, it’ll be totally fine ;).
For our 3D printing process, we use Prusa i3 MK3S+ printers. Our print farm consists of 5 printers in total. Four of them are used for manufacturing components of the standard stock Leo Rover, whereas the fifth device serves to print experimental stuff. We use it for our prototypes that we work on, sometimes experiment with different types of filaments. We chose the Prusa printers as they’re reliable and relatively failure-free.
Printing time is proportional to the size of the model being printed. Here, at Leo Rover, the process can last from 30 minutes to even up to 20 hours. The most time consuming elements to print are four wheel rims for a single Leo Rover.
Basically, any mechanical part of the rover that’s not metal is 3D printed. You may ask, couldn’t those parts be metal too? Well, while metal is typically more sturdy than other materials, it’s also more costly and this doesn't always mean it's better.
In addition, manufacturing through 3D printing opens a door to obtain a whole gamut of complex shapes, which couldn't be possible with typical manufacturing methods or, if it could, it’d surely be way more expensive. Besides, having some of the rover’s components 3D printed makes it easy to redesign a given element, print it right away and then test it. Talk about time saving. In other words, this way, it’s just easier to make some improvements.
3D printing also allows you to quickly manufacture a new part in case it breaks, which is surely a great advantage if you have your own 3D printer, because, yes, you can print Leo Rover’s parts on your own, which brings us to the next subject.
In case you had any doubts – our 3D printed components’ designs are open-source. The whole Leo Rover platform is open-source for that matter (you’ll find the rover’s files to download here).
Our models’ designs are available for the public on our Google Drive as CAD files. You can download them, print them as they are on your own printer or, depending on your requirements, make some changes in the design as you see fit. Also, you can print the components with some other material than PLA if you need your model to have different properties, for example, more resistance to high temperature. Feel free to experiment with different filaments.
We make our models for 3D printing using Fusion 360. It’s a CAD design software app developed by Autodesk. Then, we upload the created models to PrusaSlicer, which is a free, open-source slicer tool that converts 3D models into a proper file type (typically G-code) for 3D printers so that they can actually manufacture our objects. The program is compatible with any modern printer and offers plenty of various features and functionalities for altering the object’s parameters.
Those of you who do some 3D printing on your own surely know that it can be a lot of fun. And even if you don’t, now you know how it’s done at Leo Rover :). Should you have any questions regarding 3D printing or any other issue with your Leo Rover, we always do our best to help, just let us know. This article may come in handy in such cases :).
Feel free to shoot us a message at firstname.lastname@example.org if there’s anything we could be of assistance.