Having been around for a while, additive manufacturing (AM) a.k.a 3D printing continues to revolutionize the manufacturing industry. By rekindling the basic structure of the manufacturing process, it has opened new business & investment avenues for companies and investors. From prototyping and tooling, to direct part manufacturing, to constant development of new and innovative applications in the aerospace, energy, automotive, sporting goods, and medical and sectors; AM has become the backbone of the manufacturing industry.
Although current 3D printing practices have reduced waste, turnaround times, and enabled accurate production of complex geometries, it still has many limitations. Unsatisfied with current technologies, Cole Nielsen founded San Jose California based Orbital Composites in 2015. “Scale, strength, speed, and flexibility of design continue to constrain current additive manufacturing technologies and the parts that they produced. So, we decided that it was about time 3D printing systems were unconstrained from these limitations and were designed around the parts they made,” explains Cole Nielsen, Founder and CTO of Orbital Composites. “Our solution? Robots. Robotic automation launches additive manufacturing into Industry 4.0 by allowing scalability, printing on curved surfaces, unlimited print sizes, a large variety of materials, and remote automation via easy-to-program cloud-based software.” With their technology applicable to many industries, Orbital Composites’ primary focus is on verticals where the demand for light-weight, super-robust parts is essential. Known for innovation with a difference, Orbital Composites began Orbital Manufacturing to offer design services like Fundamental product design, CAD file production, Stress, and Thermal simulations, and Design for Manufacturing (DFM) optimization.
“We are also looking to build technologies that can have a large net positive impact on the environment by not only making composites manufacturing low cost and thus driving broad adoption, but also reducing the carbon footprint of the manufacturing process itself.”
One Mission, one Vision
The company’s mission is to unleash the power of robots for AM and automation, by making it extremely easy to program, use, and manage large robot manufacturing fleets. “Imagine printing large end-use parts, with strong & lightweight composite materials, and scale the initial prototype to high-volume production through a complete digital manufacturing workflow. Now imagine, doing all of this faster and lower cost than other alternatives,” says Amolak Badesha, Co-founder and COO of Orbital Composites.
Orbital Composites through robotic automation offers tremendous advantages like scalability, and complex 3D printing on curves. “We are also looking to build technologies that can have a large net positive impact on the environment by not only making composites manufacturing low cost and thus driving broad adoption, but also reducing the carbon footprint of the manufacturing process itself,” says Amolak. As the technology is advancing rapidly and ready to enter the new age, Orbital Composites is continuously upgrading its technology to be able to synchronize up to the millisecond data across thousands of cloud robots and IOT devices. Considering these prerequisites of the coming era of technology, Orbital Composites launched ORB 1, its first robotic 3D printer built for industrial scale.
“We are at the beginning of the second golden age of space exploration with upcoming missions to moons and Mars. We have the manufacturing technologies to build the critical infrastructure off-world.”
ORB 1: Making the impossible possible
In 2019, Orbital Composites introduced ORB 1, their first commercial robotic 3D printer, that is highly adaptable, flexible, and instantly deployable. It comes with an ORB operating system that allows users to print thermoplastic composite parts from CAD files easily. Being the first industrial-grade robot 3D printer of its type, it comprises a frame-mounted robot with a high-volume thermoplastic print head. Its reconfigurable robot mounting positions enable the users to print very tall, long, or wide parts. “Beyond design, our systems are not just flexible in how they print, but what they print with. Our print heads are created to be modular, and can be customized to the preferred chemistries of our clients,” shares Amolak.
Orbital’s 3D printing technology, material preparation processes, and composite materials are designed to replace metal with stronger and lighter composites materials. The usage of proprietary composite materials not only enables high-volume 3D printing of drones and satellites but also off-world manufacturing in the future. While there are tremendous opportunities for 3D printing in this world, space and off-world AM may be the primary manufacturing technology of choice. “We are at the beginning of the second golden age of space exploration with upcoming missions to moons and Mars. We have the manufacturing technologies to build the critical infrastructure off-world,” adds Amolak.
Furthermore, Orbital Composites proprietary manufacturing processes add several key advantages to traditional manufacturing processes:
Potential use on both 3D Printers (AM) and CNC machines (SM);
Enables complex composite lay-ups with CNC precision;
Reduces metal cutting time, material waste, and energy while expanding the material offerings from additive manufacturing (electronic composites: carbon, plastics, copper, and electronics);
Supports one-piece production of high-performance, light-weight, streamlined, fuel-efficient vehicles by 3D printing products;
Leads to an overall decrease in manufacturing costs and production times.
To take manufacturing via additive processes to the next level, Orbital Composites produces highly optimized products faster, stronger, lighter, and at a lower cost. Once considered as impossible, printing strong, lightweight, and large end-use composites parts, quickly and at a lower cost is now possible with Orbital Composites. “Our purpose is to create technology that enables Industry 4.0 with rapid-turnaround, low-cost and advanced manufacturing of parts that are critical to everyday life,” emphasizes Amolak.
COVID-19: A turning point for 3D printing?
As coronavirus started spreading around the world the need for medical equipment was immediate. Along with ventilators, the world was in urgent need of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) kits. Sensing the need for PPE kits which was only going to increase in days to come, Orbital Composites was able to rapidly prototype and mass produce face shields thanks to its robotic 3D printers which are 25-50 times faster than typical desktop 3D printers.
Amolak discussed the COVID-19 impact on the 3D Printing Market. “In the short term, COVID-19 has presented an opportunity to 3D print PPE and ventilator parts by rapidly repurposing the equipment. COVID-19 has further illustrated the need for flexible supply chains and remote management of manufacturing systems. Regardless of a pandemic, cloud operated systems offer many advantages, including scalability and mobility. By empowering people to manage their technology from wherever they are – even if they are traveling – it allows for more effective oversight of their operations,” saysAmolak.He further shares COVID-19 has also highlighted the need for local manufacturing and presents a much bigger opportunity in industrial applications. “The traditional supply chains are breaking down, and critical infrastructure is vulnerable to significant disruptions. This is forcing many end-customers to take large-scale 3D printing a lot more seriously and accelerate their plans for adoption,” saysAmolak.
Post Covid-19 pandemic, Orbital Composites plans to completely revolutionize large-scale composite manufacturing. Orbital plans to achieve this by setting up robotic micro-factories that eliminate transportation needs by enabling on-site manufacturing of large structures like wind-blades and, thereby leading to major cost reductions.
“The quest for developing impossible products won’t stop. We are committed to constant innovation not just to adapt to our transient global economy, but to be leaders of change,” says Amolak. “This is only the beginning.”