A disruptive multi tool
The first time we saw the 5-axis CU500 was during TCT Show in Birmingham, last September. It was a very big and cool machine, equipped with more tools than a swiss army knife. The outer shell was sturdy and featured several wide open windows that allowed visitors to see inside. It was printing pipe fittings with no need for supports, by moving the printhead in unconventional ways. Plus, it was using Bondtech QR extruders. We had to know more about it, and about the great company behind this invention. We didn’t had the chance top speak with Stephen then but we got in contact later. Here is the written interview with Stephen Bennington, CEO of Q5D.
Q5D Technologies is a Joint Venture between two UK companies, CEL-UK a manufacturer of the award winning Robox® branded 3D-printers and M-Solv a manufacturer of laser materials processing and printed electronics tools for touchscreen and other markets.
Q5D designs and supplies machine tools to automate the production of wiring harnesses. These are used in industries from white goods to automotive and aerospace. Q5D’s technology results in harnesses with higher quality but lower cost.
This technology is highly disruptive to the complex supply chains that exist in many of these industries, particularly if the machines are incorporated into just-in-time manufacturing at the OEMs.
“Q5D’s technology results in harnesses with higher quality but lower cost.”
The robotic tool combines, additive manufacture with printed electronics and embedded wiring to automate the manufacture of wiring harnesses. It does this by embedding the wiring into the component. More can be seen in the company video.
The robotic tool consists of a 5-axis platform with a multiple end-effectors and an autochanger that can swap between end-effectors.
By using a combination of FFF-type additive manufacture, printed electronics and embedded wiring and terminations the tool can create a functionalised component or functionalise an existing component.
“The robotic tool consists of a 5-axis platform with a multiple end-effectors and an autochanger that can swap between end-effectors. “
|Platform and end-effectors|
When CEL-UK started to sell the Robox® 3D printers there was a lot of excitement in the press and there was the expectation that everyone would have a printer in their homes, in much the same way they might have a printer for their computer. Although the Robox® printers sold well, particularly into the education sector, the market never quite developed as expected and it soon became clear that 3D-printing was becoming an engineering tool, and the FFF-type printers that CEL-UK were expert in, where best suited to prototyping, making jigs and fixtures and short manufacturing runs where tooling costs made other manufacturing techniques uneconomic.
When CEL-UK began to look at incorporating conducting elements into the print it quickly became clear that this was an area in which additive manufacturing could compete directly with existing manufacturing methods. Wiring harnesses are still largely made by hand, which is slow, costly and prone to error. Although there has been some progress in recent years to try and automate parts of this process, the final layout is still done with a pin-board.
Once CEL-UK decided that it was going to use printed electronics as well as embedded copper wire to add conducting elements then the design of the new system started take shape.
“…incorporating conducting elements into the print … was an area in which additive manufacturing could compete directly with existing manufacturing methods.”
Firstly: it became necessary to use a 5-axis platform as this was the obvious way to create the smooth compound surfaces onto which you could print the electronics directly.
Secondly: the flexibility that 5-axis platform brings makes it possible to print directly onto existing components. Using the Q5D tools to functionalize an existing part that is made by injection molding or metal pressing is faster and more cost effective for a mass-produced part.
One problem remained; all the existing printed electronics technologies use silver paste. Whilst this works well, it requires a curing stage where the part needs to be baked in an oven. This makes it necessary to dismount the part from the Q5D tool part way through the manufacture.
“…the flexibility that 5-axis platform brings makes it possible to print directly onto existing components. “
Chris Elsworthy the CEO of CEL-UK found the ideal solution to this problem at a meeting of the Bessemer Society a group of people who run high-tech manufacturing businesses in the UK, he was introduced to Phil Rumsby the CEO of M-Solv. M-Solv had developed a technology that used lasers to cure and sinter copper paste, not only is copper paste much less expensive than silver, it removed the need to use an external oven. They determined to join forces and together set-up Q5D.
With so much new technology to bring together in a short period of time the engineers at CEL-UK did not want to have to worry about the extruder. They needed something that was going to have excellent performance but be reliable and cost effective. They were familiar with the technologies used by Bondtech and they needed the high gear ratio to precisely control the extrusion, combined with dual pinch wheels on the filament feed.
“…needed something that was going to have excellent performance but be reliable and cost effective”
Q5D is already selling the CU500 tool, which is aimed at those who have complex wiring problems they cannot manufacture with existing technologies. It consists of the 5-axis platform and an automatic end-effector changer that can select up to three different heads at any one time.
“Q5D is working with various aerospace and automotive companies to improve the machine”
Q5D is working with various aerospace and automotive companies to improve the machine:
The software will be based on Siemens NX software. This will make it possible to take a CAD design and create tools paths that enable the object to be created.
Laser sintered-copper end-effector: Printed electronics typically uses silver paste. However, this is expensive, and the performance is adequate rather than good. Although much less expensive, the tenacious oxide layer means that copper pastes perform very poorly. However, M-Solv have developed IP which enables them to use a laser to sinter the copper paste without melting the underlying substrate. The resultant porous solid has a performance equal to or better than the silver at a fraction of the cost.
Aerospace FFF end-effectors: Many of the thermoplastics used in aerospace applications melt at high temperatures (ETFE 330°C, PEEK 343°C, PPS 280°C, PTFE 327°C) so head and build environment that can process polymer at temperature of up to 400°C is necessary.
Structural polymers are often loaded with other materials, such as chopped inorganic fibres for strength (such as glass, ceramic or carbon fibres) or with other materials to reduce permeability or increase conductivity. These materials rapidly erode metal nozzles. CEL-UK have developed an extruder with an abrasion resistant ruby nozzle.
Termination end-effectors: By using a combination of mechanical bonding and laser welding and soldering, Q5D is developing heads to add terminations of different types.
Pick-and-place end-effector: This will provide the ability to add automate the addition of passive and active electronics components. This will be ready in in 2020
Thank you Stephen for your contribution!
Bondtech would like to thank Stephen Bennington, not only for this interview but also for the work done at Q5D and for the integration of Bondtech technology in such disruptive manufacturing machine.
We would like to finish this post by highlighting the main advantages Q5D claims for usingthe CU500 >