For the first time in the history of the University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland (FHNW), a team of nine Bachelor students, from three different fields of study, have successfully participated in the European Rover Challenge (ERC), in Poland. Within a year, the students built a functional Mars rover using SLS 3D printed parts and placed 6th in the competition – out of 19 teams from all over Europe.
“It was a bit like a ‘fish out of water’ experience because we didn’t have any inside knowledge of the competition,” said Nadine Richard, a 5th semester mechanical engineering student who was in charge of the gripper, deep sampling, and the robotic arm.
For the first participation in the ERC, it was important for the FHNW team to be able to compete with a functioning rover. The Mars rover had to prove its skills over four disciplines – navigation, probing, maintenance, and science.
“In the development, we focused especially on the drivetrain, as well as the manipulator (robotic arm and gripper), since these two components are elementary for all four tasks in the competition,” said Nadine.
“A big advantage of additive manufacturing is the complexity of the parts you can design, as well as the different technologies and materials ready to use,” continued Nadine. For the tires and the signal mast, the team used the FDM printers available at the university. Due to the high demands on the gripper, selective laser sintering (SLS) was also used. High durability – due to forces from all directions – and extreme lightness – due to the gripper’s center of gravity being far out – led the students to Sintratec. “The sponsored components from Sintratec exceeded all our set requirements and performed excellently in all four tasks of the competition,” said Nadine.
Nadine’s team was impressed by the high durability and stability of the SLS components which were printed with PA12 on the Sintratec S2. “Especially for this part, the fact that support structures are not needed and the high accuracy are a real advantage… Sintratec gave us the opportunity to incorporate a technology which was new to us, into the project, and was always available to advise us. Due to the close proximity of our offices, we were even able to pick up our parts from the Experience Center ourselves,” said Nadine, who intends to continue using the advantages of the SLS technology in future robotic projects.