Ai Build is a very interesting 3D print service.
The London-based startup has developed an unusual set of hardware and software for making low-volume production of large 3D printed objects.
Ai Build’s technology is based around a 6-axis robotic arm system from Kuka, which they call “AiMaker”. The arm is fitted with a fancy all-metal extruder capable of extruding a ”wide range of polymers and composite materials” with extreme precision.
The robotic arm is mounted inside what Ai Build calls “AiCell”. It’s an environmentally-controlled enclosure that can keep a large print at optimum temperatures for the duration of operations. It sports a large aluminum plate as the build surface, and has double-glazed transparent windows to allow sight of activity while efficiently containing heat.
Ai Build Sizes
The AiCell and AiMaker come in three sizes, with build plate sizes ranging from 800 x 600 mm to 1600 x 1200 mm. The Z height apparently is dependent on the particular Kuka robot involved, but is likely in the 800-2000 mm range.
The key to Ai Build’s service is their main application, AiSync. This is a cloud-based system from which one can make use of the AiMaker / AiCell systems. This AI-powered cloud software takes the user through the entire manufacturing cycle, from uploading designs to tweaking print parameters to simulating the print itself.
AiSync provides real-time monitoring of print operations using multiple sensors and an analytics dashboard. This allows Ai Build clients to make use of their system from anywhere on Earth if connected to a network. You can see the system in operation here:
Non-Layer-By-Layer 3D Printing
But this is not simply a typical large 3D printer. Ai Build seems to leverage the full six-axis capability of their internal Kuka robots. They say:
“What makes AiSync so powerful is its unique capability to produce 3 dimensional toolpaths that are optimized for high production speed. Unlike traditional 3D printing software, AiSync produces multi-axis toolpaths that are not constrained by slicing layers which can be time consuming and inefficient.”
There are very few, if any, 3D printing systems that provide for non-layer-by-layer operations, and Ai Build has one. This capability can be a tremendous advantage as extrusion directions can be optimized to provide the best possible strength for a given object.
The system has been used to create several unbelievable large structures, one of which was our Design of the Week in 2017, a 3D printed store.
Ai Build’s website includes details on a number of fascinating projects, like this one involving a continuous extrusion of 7km:
Ai Build Subscriptions
Curiously, Ai Build has chosen to offer their “Factory as Service” in a paid subscription model. This is quite unlike other making services that charge by the part or material. I’m trying to make sense of their subscription levels, which include:
Professional Combo: This includes Toolpath generation, Generative tools, Data analytics, Real-time monitoring & Streaming over the cloud, 4-filament extruder and integrated cameras and sensors as do all their subscription levels. However, it also includes access to the cast aluminum heated bed and AiCell in any of the three sizes, and the Kuka robotic arm.
Professional: This level includes all of the above, except for the Kuka robotic arm. I’m not sure what’s moving the extruder in this option, if the arm is not there. Perhaps Ai Build offers a traditional motion system as well?
Plus: Includes all of the Professional level subscription, but not the AiCell. I presume this means the enclosure is not used, nor the robotic arm?
Basic: Includes all of the Plus level, but without the cast aluminum heated bed. On what are we printing in this level? I’m not quite sure.
Ai Build’s offerings look quite intriguing if you require a large object with unusual geometry.
Via Ai Build
MakerOS has a brilliant hidden feature in their online service: a sophisticated 3D print pricing calculator that allows operators to determine exactly how to price prints.