Plastfix has developed the first known prototype of an automated headlight repair system using robotics, software algorithms, 3D scanning and a custom automotive polypropylene-based 3D printing material. Plastfix said it had spent three years of R&D on the so-called ‘Repairbots’ in collaboration with research partners Swinburne University and the Innovative Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre (IMCRC).
The company said the patented solution is moving towards expanding its repair range and commercialising a more compact, industry-suited, automated system that is more affordable and easily utilised in any collision repair facility worldwide. The network of Repairbots will be supported by Plastfix’s central control centre in Europe, managed via a cloud-based inventory of repair programmes and headlight tab CAD data.
“The team has been outstanding during this project as we overcame several significant obstacles, not the least of which was that we had to engineer our own polymer as commercial grades were unsuitable [for] our application,” said Dr Mats Isaksson, Project Leader at Swinburne University of Technology.
The system replicates the manual lug repair-kit solution that OEMs use to replace broken tabs for certain headlights, but instead of screwing the tabs into the provided repair points on the headlight, the Repairbot system 3D-prints a set of staking posts. A heat staking method is then used to attach the tab which gives a cleaner outcome than the screw heads being exposed.
“It is so amazing to see how far we’ve come since the idea was floated back in 2017,” said David Chuter, CEO of IMCRC. “Australia is the perfect market for such innovation and this demonstration has been tremendous. Congratulations to the team at Swinburne and to all those involved throughout the journey.”
The company is continuing research and testing but hopes to 3D-print the entire replacement tab directly onto the headlight as materials and technology evolve.
“We now move into the exciting part of commercialisation,” said Mario Dimovski, owner of Plastfix and Tradiebot Industries. “The Tradiebot EU team has been working on the project for the last 12 months side-by-side with Swinburne and are preparing a more finetuned commercial Repairbot system ready for use in today’s collision repair industry.
“We have come so far and learnt so much and the advancements in technology and hardware [are] positive as the systems become faster and products are more affordable, ultimately allowing us to build an end product in reach of any collision repair or parts supply business, no matter its size.
“Our end goal is to have these Repairbot units on the shelf for sale by the start of next year retailing for approximately US$20,000, including an ongoing subscription and material cost.
“We are currently exploring all market opportunities with collision groups, OEMs and part suppliers to [determine] the best fit for our solution. In the end, if we can assist the industry to repair more headlights instead of buying new, reducing repair costs and [diverting] them from landfill, it’s a win for both business, consumers and the environment.”