Blog Items - XJet ready for industrialized ceramic AM; metal follows within a year

XJET READY FOR INDUSTRIALIZED CERAMIC AM; METAL FOLLOWS WITHIN A YEAR

June 26,  2020

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XJet ready for industrialized ceramic AM; metal follows within a year With SMART, XJet automates the entire AM process

NanoParticle Jetting may not be the fastest 3D printing technology, but if you look at the whole process, the technology lends itself perfectly for industrialization, says Dror Danai, Chief Business Officer of XJet.

Soluble support material for both ceramics and metal additive manufacturing is the deciding factor.

XJet has developed an automated solution for post-processing. This allows all steps from buildjob preparation to sintering to be automated.

XJet’s customers have made significant progress in industrializing 3D printing with ceramic materials in recent months. The Israeli manufacturer itself is also taking significant steps, says Dror Danai.

Because the development of 3D metal printing at XJet follows the ceramic activities, he expects the NanoParticle Jetting technology for metal to be ready for industrial applications by mid-2021. That the German consulting firm Ampower recently ranked the XJet technology low on an index that indicates both the maturity and industrialization of 3D printing technology is therefore, in his opinion, unjustified.

“An American customer printed 2600 ceramic earbuds on the Carmel 1400C before Christmas. Meanwhile, there are monthly repeat orders for about 600 to 1000 pieces.

They use our machine on a daily basis. From an industrial point of view these are not large numbers yet, but we are currently talking to them about the purchase of several new machines.” The American subcontractor, part of a Japanese concern, chose the XJet Carmel 1400C because of the quality of the printed parts, the repeat accuracy and the mechanical properties of the printed parts.

Ready for industrial applications

Not only this application, but also others show that NanoParticle Jetting is ready for industrial applications, according to the XJet executive.

XJet’s AM technology distinguishes itself from other AM techniques in a number of ways, and it is precisely these points that Dror Danai believes are important to take a step towards industrialization.

One of these points is the soluble support material, which was shown at Formnext for metal printing a year and a half ago and is also available for ceramic materials. At RAPID + TCT (now shifted to 2021) XJet planned to present the SMaRT tool, which stands for Support Material Removal Technology.

This system automatically removes all support material, including from internal channels because XJet technology uses a soluble support material – the world’s first in the industry for metal or ceramic materials. This leaves a smooth surface. The entire tray full of parts from the Carmel 1400C can be placed in the SMaRT system. After the removal of the support material, the tray with parts can be put directly into the sintering furnace for the last step in the production process.

A Swiss customer of XJet is already testing the system. This gives XJet the tools to automate the AM process, from buildjob preparation to sintering. In the dental industry one XJet customer is currently printing 400 zirconia crowns in one batch.

“Last year those were identical crowns, this year the customer is switching to personalized crowns because of the support removal tool,” says Dror Danai.

SMART will also become available for the Carmel 1400M, the metal AM system from the Israeli manufacturer.

Compete with binder jetting

Dror Danai says that this solution gives the technology a competitive edge when it comes to industrialization. “We see binder jetting as the greatest competitive technology. Binder jetting is perhaps two to three times faster if you only look at the printing process itself. But you have to look at the whole process, then NanoParticle Jetting scores better.”

First of all because support removal can be automated. Secondly, because of the better surface quality. “Binder jetting products should always be reworked for a smooth surface; our parts not.

” These two post processing steps are so time consuming, that you can’t make up for the loss of lead time with even faster 3D printing, Dror Danai thinks.

“The front end and back end processes account for 70 percent of the total time of the AM process.

Binder jetting manufacturers can optimize this, but they can never make it to, say, 10 percent.” It is mainly the smaller parts for which the XJet technology lends itself well.

On average 50mm in all dimensions. This remains the focus of the Israeli company for the time being. “We do not have the ambition to compete with manufacturers who print parts up to 40 centimeters high. What matters to us is the production of parts that fit on a tray (up to 280x500mm).”

Metal development follows 12 to 14 months

The examples Dror Danai quotes are all ceramic parts. However, he sees no reason why the same solution would not work with the metal AM system, the Carmel 1400M. “Developments on the metal side are 12 to 14 months behind those on the ceramic side, but we’re seeing the same progress.”

His conservative estimate is that the result will be visible in a year’s time; in an optimistic view of progress, he expects to be able to show how XJet is industrialising 3D metal printing at Formnext 2020.

The manufacturer has been pushed by the automotive industry in the development of the metal solutions.

However, it is precisely in this industrial sector that he is currently seeing a turnaround, namely an increasing interest in ceramic AM applications. “The automotive industry is one of the sectors that has encouraged us to go into metal additive manufacturing.

Now that they see the quality we achieve with ceramic applications, they see opportunities for this in cars.” XJet has had talks with one of the car manufacturers in Detroit about 3D printing antennas for Vehicle 2 Vehicle communication.

At Formnext XJet showed an example of a passive antenna amplifier for 5G. Typical examples of mass production for which the technology lends itself.

Also, in the electric car there are enough smaller parts that can be printed very well from ceramic material. And the medical industry is now working together with XJet, not only with the surgical instrument with which Marvel Medtech is developing a new treatment for breast cancer. “Soon we will be showing ceramic implants that were not previously possible,” says Dror Danai. XJet has great potential in the medical industry because it has far fewer competitors in ceramic additive manufacturing than in metal applications.

The applications that XJet focuses on are mid-size volumes. Not millions, but production numbers of 50,000 pieces per year.

There the technology is already competing with injection moulding of ceramic components. “Because we can automate the whole process; you no longer need manual intervention.”

 

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