Jan 20, 2016 | By Andre

Every time a major player in print-technology proceeds to put emphasis on the advancement of 3D printing, I become a little bit excited. Without major investment, research and strong leadership, it’s possible that the industry will stagnate and fail to reach its full potential. Xaar plc, a publicly traded Cambridge based firm that is known for the manufacture of inkjet printheads is officially entering the 3D printing space with the appointment of Professor Neil Hopkinson, who is tasked to lead and further develop their internal 3D Printing Department.

Once his new role begins in March, 2016, he will be responsible for the recruitment of a world-class team to work on advancing additive manufacturing in a general sense, but also specifically on the High Speed Sintering (HSS) 3D print technology he invented.

As someone that brings 19 years of additive manufacturing experience to the job, it isn’t any wonder that Xaar CEO Doug Edwards exclaims thrill that Neil has agreed to join. Additionally, he is "excited about the potential for HSS and other additive manufacturing technologies to expand Xaar’s horizons and exploit new opportunities.”

For Professor Hopkinson, whose career spanned through The University of Sheffield, as well as other academic institutions plus some time at 3D Systems, he is the foremost expert on HSS printing, which uses inkjet printheads and infared heaters to print, layer-by-layer, from polymer powder materials at much higher speeds than other 3D print methods allow.

Delving a bit deeper into the technology, the HSS process requires the 3D printer to deposit radiation absorbing materials (RAM) directly onto the surface of a powder, which in turn is followed by irradiation of the entire build surface by an infared lamp. While this is taking place, the build volume is maintained at a temperature just below the melting point of the powder, so the areas printed with RAM absorb IR much more than the areas without. It is this absorption energy that allows sintering to occur.

To me, the method is reminiscent of the PolyJet technology already established by Stratasys with the Connex series of 3D printers in that UV light is used as part of the bonding process. But the sintering with powder used in HSS is admittedly very unique with its high-speed potential.

For now, Professor Hopkinson is currently completing a three year tenure at the Innovate UK funded Factum Project. While there, he was tasked to develop supply chain and full scale production capabilities for both laser sintering and his very own high speed sintering technology. Industry giants such as Unilver, BAE System, and Cobham Technical Services all have vested interests in the project's results.

This new appointment with Xaar seems to be great news for Professor Hopkinson himself as well. He comments that “Industrial 3D printing is entering an important phase of maturation and I’m excited to be joining Xaar at this critical time,” before further suggesting that “it’s clear that inkjet printing will be an important enabling technology as the 3D printing sector scales up to be an integral part of mainstream manufacturing. As a leading supplier to printing equipment manufacturers all over the world, Xaar is in a strong position to accelerate the adoption of HSS technology within a number of key applications.”

Further to the above, it seems his research ties to the University of Sheffield will continue into the future as well. Professor Mike Hounslow, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Engineering at the school has gone on to say, “we are proud of the achievements of Professor Hopkinson and his team and we welcome Xaar’s investment to progress the commercialization of this exciting technology. ”

At the end of the day, it appears that this new merger of minds is a perfect match. To reiterate, Xaar’s experience in inkjet printheads (they developed technology behind Xerox’s market leading Colorgrafx wide-format printer) is second-to-none. Then of course there’s Neil’s career spanning experience with the HSS technology and other 3D printing methods. There’s no question that this very established inkjet head manufacturer is set to jump full into the world of 3D printing.

 

 

Posted in 3D Printer Company

 

 

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