In the last decade, the adoption of additive manufacturing technologies (AMT) (3D printing) has increased significantly in many fields of engineering, initially only for rapid prototyping and more recently also for the production of finished parts. With respect to the long-established material subtractive technologies (MST), AMT is capable to overcome several limitations related to the shape realization of high-performance mechanical components such as those conceived via topology optimization and generative design approaches.

In the field of structures and mechanisms, a major advantage of AMT over MST is that, for the same loading and constraining conditions (including kinematic and overall encumbrance), it enables the realization of mechanical components with similar stiffness but smaller volume (thus smaller weight, density being equal).

Recently, the potentialities of AMT have also been increased by the introduction of the fuse filament deposition modeling (FDM) of continuous fibre-reinforced thermoplastics (CFRT), which combines the ease of processing of plastic AMT with the strength and specific modulus of the printed components that are comparable to those attainable via metallic AMT.

In this context, the present paper investigates the potentialities of FDM-CFRT for the realization of mechanisms subjected to predominant inertial loads such as those found in automated packaging machinery. As a case study a Stephenson six-bar linkage powered in direct drive by a permanent magnet synchronous motor is considered. Starting from an existing mechanism realized in aluminum alloy with traditional MST, a newer version to be realized with FDM-CFRT has been conceived by keeping the kinematics fixed and by redesigning the links via three-dimensional topology optimization. To provide a fair comparison with the more traditional design/manufacturing approach, size optimization of the original mechanism made in aluminum alloy has also been performed.

Comparison of the two versions of the mechanism highlights the superior performances of the one manufactured via FDM-CFRT in terms of weight, motor torque requirements and motion precision.

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