The patent issue was my first thought. What, exactly, is it that they are patenting? The idea of a robot that does all these manufacturing steps? How is that something not within the current state of the art? Perhaps the control software would be patentable, but not the idea of the robot itself, I would think.
It is a very exciting idea, and such a device would be a useful tool, but doesn't seem like it should be patentable. (But then, neither do rounded corners.) I'd be concerned that a patent would stiffle the industry, not promote it.
RichQ, I agree with your assesment, both on the exciting prospects for 3D manufacturing and on the unliklihood of this patent being granted. Obviousness will prevent a broad patent from issuing, and even a narrow approval of the first claim as listed limits the patent to using two six-axis heads. Any configuration outside this specific configuration wouldn't be covered. Can't blame iRobot for trying, but in a weird way this application becomes prior art to make subsequent frivolous claims by others invalid by equivalence.
I posted before about my Ifactory project with my grandson. It's a manual and CNC 4 axis vertical mill, horizontal mill, horizontal lathe, vertical lathe, Shaper, Cutoff saw, robot, and 3d FDM printer all in one. It is run by a PC and also has a PLC for more I/O and control of air valves for the grippers and such.
Mechanically I have it almost completely assembled. The footprint is 3 feet x 5 feet x 6 feet tall (office desk space) fully enclosed with sliding plexiglas doors. The work space is a 30 inch cube and the machine travels are 18" x 18" x 18".
Electrically I have nearly all the cables routed. Wow there are lot of cables! 5 motion Axis, limit switches, extruder heater and fan, heated printer build table, and two spindles, one DC speed control, the other is motion controlled for 4 axis milling or ridgid tapping. Both spindles have two mounting locations on the moving axis, or on the work table, so extra wiring is need for that. I also have the two control panels, one for AC power wiring, the other for DC motion control assembled and ready to install in the enclosures. Final wiring will take a couple of days labor.
So with the exception of automatic tool changing it is all pretty much there.
Human error is the biggest problem in the engineering and manufacturing world. Take that out, and gobs of money will be saved.
Even the near slave-labor superstar, Foxconn, is planning to replace their workers with robotics. Though, I think in that area it is to combat rising prices. They will most likely see production yields increase due to the bot intervention. They right there may change the world's approach.
I agree that robots will become the worers of the future. No benifits needed, no salary. No question of the improvement in margin for manufacturers who utilize robots.
The issue of what will us poor inefficient humans do? Shorter work weeks then no work at all except for very specialized jobs. If You think outsourcing creates unemployment wait till you see what happens when robots are everywhere. The world will have to change and adapt to support the people who will not be able to find jobs.
For industrial control applications, or even a simple assembly line, that machine can go almost 24/7 without a break. But what happens when the task is a little more complex? That’s where the “smart” machine would come in. The smart machine is one that has some simple (or complex in some cases) processing capability to be able to adapt to changing conditions. Such machines are suited for a host of applications, including automotive, aerospace, defense, medical, computers and electronics, telecommunications, consumer goods, and so on. This radio show will show what’s possible with smart machines, and what tradeoffs need to be made to implement such a solution.