I am a prospective user, and so, let me begin by saying I have limited experience with 3-D carving in general; please take mercy on my ignorance.
I recently joined a startup in SF looking to produce high volumes of molded candies. Essentially, we want to automate the injection of a warm candy fluid into thousands of smaller candy molds, since right now we’re doing them by hand, which desperately needs to change.
I was attracted to this Inventables because of its high accuracy movement and part adjustability, as well as what looks like flexible software. What I want to do is essentially replace the spindle mount with a mountable high-viscosity pneumatic fluid dispenser. The molds are all held in the same plane, and so the injector would really just need to move up and down a few centimeters between the molds, and then horizontally across a grid for the dispenser to inject.
Looking at the software, it seems like it could still be used to achieve this pattern pretty easily, though instead of a mounted spindle, it would use a mounted fluid injector. I came here as one of my options because relative to 3-d printers, this seems like a more affordable option with a pretty good history of part and product troubleshooting. We’re a small company with very limited funding, so creative solutions needed.
If this sounds possible, or you have any advice or suggestions, I would be happy to hear them.
what is the viscosity of the material. The way the material gets to the dispensing head has to to considered. Think about cnc build for the amount of volume of material that needs to be put in each piece. The receiving trays need to be uniform and locked in place so the machine knows where to put each “shot”. As for as software a good gcode writer can create code for you. a little study you can write it yourself. it fairly easy move to location xy do subroutine dispense. move to next location and dispense. you get the picture. good luck write back and keep us informed.
The X-Carve hardware could be good for this, but I’d think you’d be a lot closer with 3D printer firmware rather than CNC on your controller since you really are talking about an extruder rather than a spindle.
There is also a whole different level of concerns with any machine that touches food. The chances of getting an X-Carve into a state where you could get it certified to be in a kitchen are really small.
idk man the x-carve is around 900 square inches and if the candies are 1" square thats 900 in a batch thats a decent production cycle and if the automation saves time vs. squirting it out of a hand held dispenser
I think we really need to know more details and scale of production
if its a small candy shop making candies every day it might not be an issue and a commercial dispensing piece of equipment can easily go into the 10’s of thousand’s without taking a second look
these machines can accel at all sorts of automation tasks like bin sorting, pen plotting, etc
If you’re doing this for food for sale (which he is) you’ve got a whole level of stuff beyond what you might set up in your own kitchen. You’d probably have to convince a health inspector that you had a way of cleaning it every day, make sure that no metal flakes off into the food, prove that the belting doesn’t contain any non-food approved chemicals. I’m not saying that the machine can’t do it in reality, I’m saying you might have to spend a lot of time proving it if you want to sell food that’s been touched by it.
I have no idea, never got into that. I can know that there are gotchas out there without knowing what they are. The closest I’ve been to this is a friend who started a restaurant and things I’ve heard about what is required to certify a commercial kitchen. I’ve gotta believe that your average kitchen inspector would look at this and it’d blow his mind. Someone with food factory experience would have to chime in.
Thanks for the great level of support and responses! It’s definitely appreciated. I’ll answer a few questions and then ask a few more of my own that relate to some of the responses.
As far as viscosity, we’re working with some pretty thick material. Think honey-esque. We have been able to do some sourcing as far as heating and line work though, and have a heated feed from a pressurized heated chamber that can accommodate all kinds of sterile vessels. The entire system is self-contained until the point it is dispensed. There are pressurized dispensing heads, (which may be the same or perhaps have some differences to 3d printer extruders?) that are already being used for industry work, though we are also on the look out for alternatives. Perhaps a 3d extruder would work just as well. I am beginning research on this currently but have a lot of ground to cover. This leads me to my next question.
As far as integration with the Inventables software, are there 3d printer extruders (or liquid dispensers anyone might know of) that work with Easel? Or is this going to be a separate scripting project that I run outside of the cnc software? Or is there alternative 3d printing software that works with the x-carve that could integrate a dispenser gracefully? This question is honestly my biggest concern at the moment. I’m definitely doing my research, but if anyone has advice here, I’d be very grateful.
Volume would not be an issue. With the largest frame, a single x-carve should be able to pump out plenty for the foreseeable future. We’re still little enough that it’s not an issue.
We’re looking into the food safety and sanitation point and will definitely make sure we’re following all guidelines before producing anything. We’ll certainly be taking steps to prevent any kind of contamination, obviously, but this is pretty new ground for us so we’re just looking to get a sense of feasibility at the moment.
Thanks everyone for the responses! They’re really and truly appreciated.
Just emit gcode directly. Gcode is a trivial markup language, and banging out code that can turn on a dispenser and move it to particular locations is something any developer should be able to do in their sleep. You said you were in SF, right - just walk outside and grab the first person who walks by; they’ll be able to code it :-). You don’t need any of the software that Inventables produces.
Assuming you can find an off-the-shelf injection mechanism, my guess is that your recurring nightmare is going to be keeping the thing clean. Honey(ish) + XCarve mechanism = pain. Maybe not insurmountable pain, but pain.
I doubt 3d extruders are going to be useful for you. They rely on pushing a solid filament into the heating chamber; gears grab it, push on it, and that creates the pressure to extrude melted goo. To me, doesn’t really sound like related equipment.