Oct 13, 2017 | By Tess

AIM3D, a German startup founded by a team of researchers from the University of Rostock, is aiming to revolutionize the 3D printer market with its innovative CEM technology. The startup is currently developing the ExAM255, a 3D printer which takes inspiration from injection molding processes to additively manufacture in both metal and plastic.

CEM, which stands for composite extrusion modeling, is a novel 3D printing process which uses metal granulate rather than metal powders to build up complex models in a layer-by-layer fashion.

That is, rather that use a laser to sinter a bed of metal powder, the AIM3D team have devised an extruder (the AIM3D CEM E-1 extruder) which is capable of processing granulates of up to 3 mm in diameter in almost any material.

This is an approach we’ve seen applied for plastic-based 3D printing (with the CMS Kreator, for instance), but could be truly revolutionary if it could also be applied to metal-based additive manufacturing.

Copper granulate (left) and a 3D printed turbine part (right)

(Image: Julia Graßmann)

One advantage of using granulate materials for 3D printing is that they are cheaper and more widely available: largely because granulate materials are already commonplace for injection molding processes.

While metal 3D printing has usually remained prohibitive in terms of its material costs (metal powders are still considered by many to be too expensive for large-scale production) and limited in terms of which materials can be used, AIM3D’s approach could open up a wealth of opportunity for industry.

According to AIM3D, it has already established that its 3D printing system can process stainless steel, and it is currently developing other alloys and non ferrous metals for 3D printing.

As mentioned, the key component in CEM technology is the extruder, which is said to be able to process “virtually any injection molding granulate up to a diameter of 3 mm” and can print layers at a minimum layer height of 20 μm with an accuracy of 50 μm.

Further, the ExAM255 will be equipped with an automatic material feeder that can supply up to one liter of material per extruder, which AIM3D says corresponds to 1.2 kg of ABS or 4.4 kg of stainless steel. (The feeder can, of course, be refilled during the printing process.) The printer’s build volume is reportedly 255 x 255 x 255 mm.

It is worth noting that because CEM technology uses a deposition-based additive method, the process does require the use of a plastic binder material, which keeps the deposited layers stuck together. This means that once the print is complete, users are required to sinter them in a special sintering oven.

This step effectively burns away the plastic binder and leaves a final part that has a metal density of about 96%. AIM3D says it is developing its own sintering oven that customers can purchase with its 3D printer, but adds that industrial furnaces can also be used.

Overall, AIM3D’s technology has us pretty excited, as it promises both lower material costs and lower machine costs for metal 3D printing—because the 3D printer does not require expensive laser technology, its cost will be lower than more laser sintering systems.

AIM3D team stands with a prototype of their ExAM255 3D printer

(Image: Julia Graßmann)

Apparently, we’re not the only ones to think that AIM3D’s CEM process sounds pretty great, as the German startup was awarded one of the five prizes for the Formnext Startup Challenge 2017. AIM3D will also be presenting its novel technology at the Frankfurt-based 3D printing event.

AIM3D’s ExAM255 3D printer is still in development, though the startup says it plans to release its innovative system on the market soon, perhaps as soon as 2018.

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Technology

 

 

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