A New York startup, Addibots LLC, has combined additive manufacturing with mobile robotics to allow the construction of objects outside the dimensions of the typical "box" workspace associated with 3D printers.

One limitation of current 3D printing methods is that they operate inside a workspace of finite dimensions. Because a typical 3D printer consists of implements moved about on slides mounted inside of a "box" printing workspace, the printer is not able to construct objects outside of the dimensions of its workspace.

For many household 3D printers, these dimensions are a few inches in each direction. "Addibots," in contrast, use a mobile interface to print objects of many different scales.

Traditional 3D printers use materials to fabricate objects designed to be taken out of the workspace upon completion. Addibots allow for any surface to become a workspace, so it can use materials that integrate into the workspace. In this way, workspace surfaces become part of the construction, rather than serving as a location for the print.

repairing a road, for example, Addibots could drive down a street and sense damage while laying down material to fill and repair these defects at a constant driving speed.

An Addibot resurfaces ice. Image credit: Addibots LLC.An Addibot resurfaces ice. Image credit: Addibots LLC.An additional benefit accrues from Addibots' ability to work in teams—each, for example, printing a different material. According to the manufacturer, a team of Addibots—one with a plastic material for a shell or casing, one with a strong metal for heavy structural members and one with a lighter metal for less-stressed members—could construct a multi-material boat hull, bridge truss or other object.

Addibots can be controlled by users directly, autonomously or with varying degrees of both, depending on the application. Printing in dynamic environments, such as repairing irregular surface defects, might call for the use of autonomous methods. In surface construction applications, however, a user might want the Addibot to print from a pre-programmed model or be directed by them during the print.

To contact the author of this article, email engineering360editors@globalspec.com