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BruBotics part of Hybrid Laserbased additive–subtractive platform (HyLaForm)

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Together with partners VUB-AVRG, KULeuven PMA, VUB-MeMC and VUB-SURF, the BruBotics research group R&MM has successfully applied for a Hercules grant to start with the development of a unique and state of the art additive manufacturing (3D-printing) platform: a hybrid laser based additive and subtractive research platform. Once finished, this new platform dubbed HyLaForm will enable the research group to design more complex solutions and opens up a staggering new array of customization possibilities to its prostheses and wearable robotics research. The grant from the Flemish government for this unique project exceeds €2.2 million.

The infrastructure

The infrastructure which will be developed jointly by the different partners - a hybrid laser based additive and subtractive research platform - is unique in the world and will significantly enhanced the future possibilities of additive manufacturing. The infrastructure consists of two complementary machines offering a large amount of applications. The selected additive manufacturing (metallic 3D printing) techniques are selective laser melting (SLM) and laser metal deposition (LMD). The modularity of the research platform (hardware and software) is one of the key advantages of the infrastructure allowing the exchange of main components, which will further stimulate collaboration and research.

So how are robots involved in this?

In short, this new infrastructure will allow us to develop more complex technologies and while offering a wide range of customization possibilities for our application areas such as robotic prostheses and exoskeletons. One of the main focal points of the BruBotics research group Robotics & MultiBody Mechanics is physical human-robot interaction (pHRI). Actuators (‘the muscles of the robots’) are key components for motion control of mechanisms and play an important role in pHRI. However today's actuators, are mostly like the vacuum tubes of the 70's: they are still heavy, offer low performances and low torques and are very energy inefficient compared to humans. One can indeed state that the functional performances and neuro-mechanical control system capabilities of biological muscles are far from reached by a mechanical actuators. Therefore R&MM performs research towards a new generation of soft actuators to achieve high torques, safety and energy efficiency for applications in human-robot interaction.

The most recent new architecture is the Series-Parallel Elastic Actuation (SPEA) concept. The SPEA work is carried out in the ERC Starting Grant SPEAR. The novel infrastructure will allow R&MM to investigate and implement novel mechatronic solutions to increase the complexity of the mechanical design (variable stiffness mechanisms, gears, locking mechanisms and integrated solutions) in order to obtain comparable performances to those possible by human's muscles. Finally, since R&MM also develops wearable robots & prosthetic devices, more customized solutions come into reach without imposing any extra cost on the production side.

By consolidating this technology in the research group, R&MM can continue to be a leading research partner in these fields, resulting in future participation in EU and national grants and valorization of the research in applications.

Flanders: a strong heritage in 3D Printing

Today Flanders plays an important role within the additive manufacturing research community. It has a leading position as one of the most intensive additive manufacturing regions in the world in terms of additive manufacturing volume per capita. To sustain this position we have to continue to invest in new fundamental research infrastructure. This research infrastructure will form a solid cornerstone for maintaining a leading position and to attract new research funding in multiple research domains.

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