The nRugged 3D printer is ready to roll [Image: nScrypt]
“Ruggedized”: It’s not just a great word, it’s a great benefit for 3D printing.
We’ve been following the progress of Florida-based nScrypt as the company has been developing a ruggedized 3D printing offering. Work with the US military and The Geneva Foundation has introduced us to an intriguing machine called the Austere BioAssembly Tool (ABAT) — a ruggedized bioprinter.
nScrypt is no stranger to strange requests. By “strange” we mostly mean out of this world environments, including literally with a 3D printer designed for the International Space Station, as well as figuratively with more grounded, but still austere, installations.
The ABAT project takes the work done to bioprint in microgravity back down to Earth, offering both bioprinting and more general 3D printing in — well, nearly any environment.
Ruggedized 3D / Bioprinting
The ABAT proved itself in a recent field trial — and again, that’s a literal field.
While its exact location was undisclosed (this is military-involved, after all), imagery shows the rugged little system rolling along in desert conditions. Success with a few pilot prints, both bioprints and with more standard materials, highlighted ABAT’s capability for functionality in a tough environment.
Why would anyone want to 3D print or bioprint in a desert?
Look at the project’s partners: the key lies first in military deployment. Troops in the field have needs, both tactical and medical, that can be met with 3D printing. Quick access to necessary tools or bandages that promote healing can be effectively life-saving — and if not in such dire circumstances, can simply be enormously helpful, as having the right tool for the job can save many a headache.
The project is expanding, now, and this “ruggedized version of nScrypt’s digital manufacturing platform (Factory in a Tool (FIT))” is available now for purchase.
Rather than ABAT, the commercially-available system is called a rather more memorable “nRugged.”
The system is designed to offer both bioprinting and 3D printing (e.g., for manufacturing) — and more. nScrypt explains of its wide-ranging functionality:
“The machine can be outfitted with up to four tool heads, in any combination, for microdispensing, material extrusion, milling and polishing, and pick-and-place, using 10,000+ material choices. The standard machine sports a carbon fiber exoskeleton and 150x150mm heated print bed, and prints 238mm in the X axis, 173 mm in the Y axis, and 152mm in the Z axis, but can be built in other sizes. Optional equipment includes a target view camera (for microscopy and X-Y alignment) and a process view camera (for a live view of the printing tip) for in-process monitoring and control, a Keyence line scanner or point sensor, and a 4 channel heater controller. No external compressed air is required.”
Setup to print are “almost instantaneous,” adding even further to the effectiveness of the system. From automated calibration to basically plug-and-play start, the nRugged is designed for use — quickly, and wherever needed.
“Plug-and-play” is here a term familiar to 3D printing — but somewhat optional for the nRugged when it comes to taking this literally. While it can run on 24-28VDC power or 100-240VAC power, the system can also run on solar-charged battery for up to 48 hours.
nScrypt notes that the full system weight — including the 3D printer and its integral crate — is about 220 lbs and “can be lifted and moved by 3-4 people and pushed by one person.” It’s certainly not the most difficult piece of industrial/medical equipment to get into place where it needs to be.
And sometimes “where it needs to be” isn’t just harsh, it’s in motion.
“Obviously this is not ideal, but the answer is yes,” said nScrypt CEO Dr. Ken Church in response to the question of whether the device can operate while moving. “The nRugged solves the problem of precision 3D printing or bioprinting in a harsh environment, like on a Navy ship in rough waters or on the back of a trailer.”
The system is configurable to what a given operator might need it for, from initial dimensions to toolhead and operation.
This is a versatile, strong system — and one that looks like it will live up quite thoroughly to its “ruggedized” moniker.
“nRugged is so much more than a 3D printer. Because it is a version of our Factory in a Tool, it solves the problem of building a precision product, not just a part, and does it in harsh environments. For example, a complete electronic device or a bioactive bandage can be digitally manufactured in the same machine. The real advantage of this tough machine is mobility, rapid mobility, while maintaining precision. No crate, no riggers, no heavy equipment movers, no technicians to set it up and calibrate. Roll it into position, remove the top, plug it together, and start printing. Move it again and start printing right away. And again, with precision,” said Church.
Pricing hasn’t been announced, and will be dependent upon the exact configuration requested; quotes are available, as the system is available now.