Two of the most futuristic sounding technologies are working together to change the manufacturing world while saving processors a lot of upfront costs.

Robotics and 3D printers are working in tandem to change the manufacturing industry in ways that only the Jetsons used to dream about.

Jorge Izquierdo, vice president market development, PMMI, says 3D printing is already being used widely in food processing.

“They are using 3D printing now. It’s happening now. It’s not like in the future,” he says. “It’s already here and it’s going to grow. It’s not science fiction.”

And it’s robotics that’s really helping to propel it forward. It all comes down to end-of-arm tooling.

“Now the trick with robots is 97 percent of the robot is standard, but what’s different for each application is the element that handles the product — its end-of-arm tool, it’s different for each application,” he explains. “In many cases, 3D printing is used for this end of arm.”

Enter, 3D printers, which can easily design extremely specific parts for all those times a beverage company wants to change the shape of their bottles and the robot has to be formatted to pick up the new shape.

And that can save manufacturers lots of money. 

“While the price of the robot could be 50-60 percent, in some cases, the end of arm tooling could be 30-40 percent [of the cost], because it’s specifically designed for that application. And when you say, ‘I’m changing this container from this shape to this other shape,’ it’s new tooling every time,” he says.

Of course, the goal is that 3D printing will also revolutionize spare parts for all equipment.

“Picture you’re in some place and you have a filling machine and you need a spare part. What’s going to happen is I say, ‘I need this spare part,’ and they are going to send this file to a local 3D printing location and they will 3D print that part for you,” Izquierdo says. “That’s happening right now in the US. That’s what they are doing on the International Space Station. So, we don’t need to wait, and spend millions of dollars to have this little spare part.”