Printing with robots

Functionalisation of large components with robots and multi-axis portal systems

The use of industrial robots and 5-axis gantries systems makes it possible to print functions such as sensors or heaters on components with complex surfaces exactly where they are needed. Various printing technologies such as aerosol jet or dispensing can be used to print structure sizes ranging from a few micrometres to several metres. The systems at Fraunhofer IFAM can thus provide component sizes ranging from a few millimetres to 10 metres with a variety of different functions, such as conductor tracks, with pinpoint accuracy.

More flexibility through more axes

5-axis portal systems and industrial robots enable the functionalisation of complex and large surfaces as well as 24/7 industrial production. Established production technologies are therefore used for manufacturing of new types of products. For example, smartphone antennas can already be printed directly on the inside of the housing, enabling a more compact design with a higher degree of automation in production. In addition, the functionalisation of increasingly complex design elements, such as multiple curves, can be implemented using portal systems and robots.

Efficient and environmentally friendly due to Functional Printing

The functionalisation of components and surfaces using functional printing offers significant advantages over other technologies. On the one hand, material is only applied where it is necessary during the printing process. This eliminates the expensive post-treatment processes that are based on environmentally harmful chemicals. On the other hand, the digital approach enables the production of a wide range of product variants, including individualised unique products, on the same system.

Functional printing can thus be operated economically on a small scale, on an industrial scale, and under strict environmental regulations. This opens up the possibility of production in Germany, which offers short supply chains and high flexibility.

Functionalisation of complex and large surfaces

Two different systems are used at Fraunhofer IFAM for the functionalization of complex and large surfaces: A Kuka KR16 robot with a payload of 16 kg on a ten-metre long linear axis is available for the functionalization of large components. This can carry a wide variety of print heads and, with its six axes, can follow and print on almost any component surface. For smaller components, the 5-axis gantry system with a single PJ 15X print head from Neotech AMT is used. Different printing, pre- and post-processing methods can also be used on this system.


Kuka 6-axis robot on a 10 m linear axis

  • Print area: 1,6 x 2 m x 10 m
  • Printing technologies: Jet dispensing, aerosol spray process
  • Repetition accuracy: ~100µm
  • Printhead is moved


Neotech 5-axis portal system with single print head  

  • Print area: 400 x 300 x140 mm
  • Printing technologies: Aerosol spray process, Piezo Jet, Dispensing, Inkjet process
  • Repetition accuracy: ~10µm
  • Component is move

Functionalisation of an aircraft wing using a robot system

Together with five other Fraunhofer institutes, Fraunhofer IFAM has transferred digital manufacturing processes from the laboratories to robot-assisted production lines in the Fraunhofer lighthouse project »Go Beyond 4.0« The combination of classic manufacturing processes with digitally controlled production approaches enables a higher and more efficient cycle of the process chains in production - with a very high degree of individualisation.

Within the project, Fraunhofer IFAM was able to successfully integrate temperature, capacitive and impact sensors as well as UHF antennas and LEDs into a wing element of a commercial aircraft and print a cable harness onto the inside of a car door. Both the insulation and the functional structures were printed or sprayed on using robots.

Automation and digitalisation are core competencies of Fraunhofer IFAM. Under the leadership of Jonas Deitschun, the »Functional Printing« working group prints various surfaces up to large components using a multi-axis robot system. In the »Smart Systems« department, the group offers comprehensive know-how and the latest technologies in printed 3D electronics. In addition to aviation, the fields of application also include automotive construction and medical technology.

© Fraunhofer IFAM
Functionally integrated wing leading edge with integrated temperature, ice and impact sensors as well as heaters and lighting.