Nov 10, 2015 | By Kira
Back in 2012, Minnnesota-based Stratasys announced a $1.4B merger with Israeli 3D printer manufacturer Objet to create what has become one of the leading 3D printing and direct digital manufacturing companies in the world, revolutionizing industrial plastic manufacturing. Now, another Israeli startup, Xjet, wants to do the same for 3D printed metals.
Xjet is developing a proprietary inkjet printing technology for liquid metal that could make the large scale manufacturing of custom metal parts cheaper and more efficient than ever before, driving 3D metal printing into the mainstream. While current metal 3D printing technology relies on prohibitively expensive DMLS (Direct Metal Laser Sintering), Xjet’s patented Nano Metal Jetting technology uses nanoparticles to create special liquid metals that can 3D print one-of-a-kind metal parts on the fly whilst introducing a new level of throughput and speed, unequaled accuracy and surface finish, and unmatched simplicity and saftey of operation.
Applications include custom medical devices, such as titanium knees, being printed on-the-spot, or steel or aluminum car parts. “Using our inkjet technology we will be able to make customized metal manufacturing affordable for even small companies,” said Xjet CBO Dror Danai.
“The layered inkjet printing technology that is used to make medical devices, dental implants, single-run samples for manufacturing, and much more is all based on plastic,” said Danai. “In the same way that Objet helped create an industry for 3D printing using plastic materials [such as PLC], we intend to create an industry that will allow the same kind of custom printing for metal.”
It should come as no surprise that Danai wants to build-on and expand Objet’s boundary-pushing technological innovations: he, along with many of the 62 employees of Xjet, are Objet veterans (fifty of those employees are also engineers specializing in material design). Danai left the company before they merged with Stratasys.
Xjet3D CBO Dror Danai
Currently, metal manufacturing requires the creation of a mold to fit liquid metal, which then solidifies into the required shape. While this system has worked well for the large-scale manufacturing of standard metal parts, say, for auto and aerospace manufacturing, it is exceedingly inconvenient for non-standard pieces. “To make an odd-sized piece, you first have to make up a new mold and measure it to ensure it ahs the right specifications for the machines that are going to provide it commercially,” explained Danai. “Manufacturing a single, one-time item is a very drawn out and expensive proposition that makes many metal parts very expensive.”
While some companies involved in custom metal manufacturing can use DMLS, a subset of 3D printing technology, it is prohibitively expensive for all but the largest companies.
According to Danai, Xjet’s inket printing technology for liquid metals allows manufacturers to skip the mold stage altogether, saving them huge amounts of time and money, and even allowing them to create unique, one of a kind metal parts on the fly. “All the specifications are made in the software, and when it’s time to print, our nano-based metals are created according to those specifications.”
Xjet’s proprietary liquid metals are based on nanoparticles of specific metals. In liquid form, the metals are encased in a tube and inserted into 3D printers. Since each metal requires its own process to develop, they have started with stainless steel, and expect both their 3D printers and liquid metal to be on the market by 2016, after which they will begin developing other major metals.
3D printing with liquid metals opens up a range of possibilities for custom metal manufacturing. “We could print out a titanium knee on the spot for a patient, instead of making them wait weeks for a custom design,” said Danai by way of an example. He also said that large maker of sports cars has shown interest in developing unique add-ons for their high-end cars out of steel or aluminum rather than plastic.
Xjet presented their technology at the 2015 Go4Israel conference in Tel Aviv, considered to be one of the most important gatherings if international investors in Israel. Despite their close ties to Objet, it remains to be seen whether Xjet can truly do for metal what their predecessor did for plastic. However, given that custom metal parts are already used in rockets, spaceships, military jets and other aerospace and automotive applications, the timing seems just right for 3D metal printing to enter the mainstream.
Posted in 3D Printer Company
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Francisco wrote at 11/11/2015 4:56:29 PM:
None of the pictures in the article represent what the building capability of the techonology