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Low-cost precision robotic arm for 3D printing, light-duty milling, and electronics assembly.
Low-cost precision robotic arm for 3D printing, light-duty milling, and electronics assembly.
Low-cost precision robotic arm for 3D printing, light-duty milling, and electronics assembly.
96 backers pledged $82,905 to help bring this project to life.

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FLX.ARM: Low-Cost Precision Robotic Arm

$82,905

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Please visit our Updates section for new videos of FLX.IDE and FLX.ARM.

Meet the FLX.ARM.S16.Z8

FLX.ARM is the tool every design, engineering, and manufacturing professional needs for their office, lab, studio, or production space. We have engineered and manufactured every component on the FLX.ARM to enable it to be the most precise, low-cost, and extensible platform on the market.

The FLX.ARM.S16.Z8 is a SCARA robot.  SCARA stands for Selective Compliance Articulated Robot Arm.  This simply means the robot arm moves along the X-Y plane and uses an additional actuator to move along the Z-Axis.  By restricting movement to the X-Y plane the robot arm is able to maintain rigidity in the Z-Axis without requiring the joints to overcome gravity.

Workspace

With a reach of 16" [406.4 mm] in the X-Y plane and 8" [203.2 mm] of Z travel the FLX.ARM.S16.Z8 has a large configurable workspace.

Workspace Comparison

Precision Engineered Joints

Low-cost precision robotic arms can cost on average from $10k - $40k.  Much of the cost is in the development and manufacturing of the robotic joints.  We have reduced the cost of manufacturing and assembling the robotic joint by using off-the-shelf components for actuation and by automating the manufacturing and calibration processes.

  • Closed-Loop
  • Dynamically Stiff
  • Zero Backlash
  • Backdrivable
  • Trainable
  • Collision Detection

Closed-Loop versus Open-Loop

Many open-loop motion control platforms depend on stepper motors to provide precise motion.  No sensor or feedback system communicates the current physical position to the motion control software.  The accuracy specification for an open-loop motion control platform is most likely based on a calculation and not the real-world physical accuracy of the machine.  This calculation is based on the stepper motors ability to micro-step and the pitch of the timing belt or lead screw.  Micro-stepping a stepper motor increases resolution but dramatically reduces per step torque.  As an example, a 1/16th micro-step reduces torque to less than 10% of full-step torque.  As the rotational velocity of the motor increases the torque is further reduced.  This reduction in torque can cause the stepper motor to stall if any non-ideal motion occurs.  A stall results in lost motion and precision.  Any lost motion in an open-loop system will accumulate.  A closed-loop system is able to dynamically consume the lost motion.    

FLX.ARM is a closed-loop motion control platform with integrated ultra-high resolution optical encoders for feedback.  The encoders are coupled directly to the output of each joint resulting in the ability to dynamically consume lost motion and dampen positional overshoot/undershoot.

Absolute Positioning - Repeatable to 0.001" [0.025 mm]

Absolute positioning allows the FLX.ARM to always knows its position on the X-Y plane.  It does not require homing on power-up.  When you command FLX.ARM to a given position it will go repeatably to that position within 0.001" [0.025mm].

Rigidity

FLX.ARM is precision machined from 6061-T6 billet aluminum.  Each joint is preloaded with precision bearings capable of dynamically loading over 5000 lb of force.  Unlike traditional linear motion platforms, FLX.ARM does not use timing belts that require tensioning or shafts that require alignment.

Collaborative and Scalable

Human-machine collaboration is essential, but so is machine-machine collaboration.  The collaborative nature of a robotic arm is what differentiates it from all other machine platforms.  Collaboration enables a robotic arm to change tools and load parts on a CNC mill or lathe and provides scalability with 3D printing, pick and place, and assembly operations.  FLX.ARM is able to collaborate and distribute the workload of a single task.

Control Box

Modular Toolheads

Modular toolheads allow the FLX.ARM to be extensible.  An extensible machine platform can be used for more than one task.  The following toolheads are currently available with additional toolheads in development.  

3D Printer

The 3D printer toolhead integrates the all metal E3D hot end with our bowden filament drive.  We chose the E3D hot end due its ability to consistently print a wide-range of materials.

Materials include:

  • PLA
  • ABS
  • HIPS
  • Flexible PLA
  • Nylon
  • Polycarbonate

We have included a thermocouple to increase the maximum operating temperature of the hot end.  An integrated fan maintains the thermal characteristics of the hot end.  An additional fan is provided and may be mounted to the accessory port of the toolhead to provide active cooling of the 3D printed part.  A 0.4 mm nozzle is included.  The 3D printer toolhead is capable of printing at a 100 micron layer height.

Pick and Place

The pick and place toolhead integrates a rotary joint, solenoid valve, and your choice of a venturi vacuum pump or micro-electric vacuum pump.  A precision production quality SMT pick and place head is included with nozzles for most SMT parts down to the 0402 size.  Nozzles for 0201 parts will be available for purchase at the time of shipment.  Any vacuum cup with a 10-32 thread may be mounted directly to the toolhead.

We are in the process of developing accessories for the pick and place toolhead including a vision system and solder paste dispenser.

Light-Duty Milling

The light-duty milling toolhead provides a precision mount for the Proxxon IBS/E rotary tool.  The Proxxon IBS/E is capable of 5000 - 20000 rpm and is powered from 115 VAC.  The Proxxon IBS/E is not included but is readily available in most parts of the world.  

FLX.ARM is able to mill a variety of materials.

Materials include:

  • Hardwood
  • Softwood
  • Plywood
  • Aluminum
  • Copper
  • Brass
  • Acrylic
  • ABS
  • Acetal/Delrin
  • FR1-FR4
  • Foam
  • Wax

Probe

The probing toolhead includes a 3D probe and 2" probe tip.  The combination of the 3D probe and FLX.ARM's absolute positioning provides a precision versatile measuring apparatus.  In addition, the probe may be used to find edges on a workpiece.

Cast Aluminum Precision Ground Build Plates

It can be difficult to level the build platforms for the large workspace FLX.ARM provides.  Some operations are able to compensate for a skewed build surface, but it is best to start with a level build platform.  We have developed leveling mounts for our build plates that are adjustable and positioned by FLX.ARM.  We custom machine precision ground mic6 cast aluminum plate to fit 90 degree sections of the workspace.  Each 90 degree build plate section includes 4 leveling mounts.

 FLX.IDE: Software for Design and Manufacturing

 We have spent over 4 years developing FLX.IDE.  We built a unique client-server architecture to enable a rich platform independent client and high-peformance server processing.  Our client only requires a WebGL enabled browser.  With the release of iOS 8 all major operating systems support WebGL.

Features include:

  • 3D CAD
  • 3D CAM - Additive and Subtractive
  • Machine Control Simulation
  • Toolpath Visualization
  • Path/Trajectory Planning
  • 3D PCB Layout and Visualization
  • Custom Geometric Kernel
  • Full-Featured Scripting
  • Client-Server Architecture

Import formats include:

  • STEP
  • IGES
  • STL
  • VRML
  • GCODE
  • GERBER
  • EAGLE

 FLX.CTL: Machine Control Hardware Interface

FLX.CTL is our hardware interface for machine control and is comprised of an ARM Cortex M4 microcontroller with an integrated FPU, floating point unit, and an FPGA.  The FPGA provides real-time parallel processing of I/O while the ARM Cortex M4 microcontroller executes commands and  provides efficient network communication over ethernet.  FLX.CTL enables FLX.ARM, CNC machines, and automation equipment to be interfaced with FLX.IDE.

Features include:

  • Distributed Motion Control Interface
  • Synchronous Motion at Pulse Rates up to 1 MHz
  • Application Extensible Connector
  • Opto-Isolated I/O
  • Application Firmware Configuration from FLX.IDE

We need your help

We have spent years developing our core technologies.  We now need an active passionate community to provide us feedback.  With your support we can hire additional help and scale our production capabilities.  Thank you for taking the time to learn about Flux Integration and our mission to enable seamless design and manufacturing.

Credits

Music: Deep Haze Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)

SplatBag 3D Model: Ben Malouf

Risks and challenges

We have spent over a year actively developing FLX.ARM and over 4 years developing the software and hardware which has enabled us to design and manufacture it at such an affordable price. We are manufacturing a majority of the parts in-house to limit quality control and fulfillment issues. The remaining parts are off-the-shelf components and do not require custom engineering for our application.

Precision robotic arms are difficult to manufacture and calibrate. We have spent months refining our design and automating processes to limit this difficulty.

We are finalizing the PCB layout for FLX.CTL. Firmware for FLX.CTL can be updated remotely. At the conclusion of this campaign we anticipate user feedback to develop a library of application specific interfaces for existing machine platforms.

FLX.IDE is being actively developed, tested, and documented. We anticipate an extended beta testing process to fully test and release all software modules.

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    FLX.ARM Pre-Production - Batch 1: Be the first to receive the FLX.ARM.S16.Z8. Includes FLX.IDE beta access. Add to your pledge amount for toolheads and build plates. Shipping not included.

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Funding period

- (20 days)