Jun 24, 2016 | By Alec

While metal 3D printing is becoming increasingly popular for small batch production, it’s not the only metal manufacturing technology that is enjoying a growing popularity. The market for metal injection molding, a production technique that efficiently combines metal particles and polymers with injection molding, is also growing. Worth a massive $1.5 billion USD back in 2012, its market is still growing with double digits. In an attempt to outmaneuver that market, Tokyo-based technology company Ricoh has just unveiled a new 3D printer that also uses a resin binder to efficiently sinter metal particles together in a highly detailed 3D printing process, but uses that binder far more efficiently.

Of course this is not the first time Ricoh has dabbled with 3D printing. A well-known technology developer with a global footprint, Ricoh specializes in office imaging equipment, production print solutions, document management systems and IT services. With a presence in just about every corner of the world, their sales were worth approximately 18.5 billion dollars over 2014. While by no means a main branch of their services yet, the company has been looking into the 3D printing industry. Among others, they have set up a 3D printing service, signed a partnership with Dutch 3D printer developers Leapfrog, and have been selling their own large volume, high resolution RICOH AM S5500P SLS 3D printer for some time now.

But the company is working on their follow-up 3D printer, which they just unveiled at the 27th Design & Manufacturing Solutions Exhibition at the Tokyo Big Sight International Exhibition Center (held this week). Among others, they unveiled several 3D printed objects made with this new 3D printer. As the company revealed, they showcased the product in an investigative attempt to decide whether or not they want to commercialize the 3D printer or use it for 3D printing services.

While their intentions aren’t known yet, the 3D printer does have a very interesting production method. Instead of solidifying parts with a laser like typical SLS 3D printers, this 3D printer binds metal particles together by spraying thin coats of resin onto them. Forming a kind of nanoscale resin coat on the surface of the particles, this is followed by an ink coating that solidifies the component. That part is then transferred to a sintering furnace, where the particles blend together to form highly detailed metal parts.

During this process, the 3D printer uses a binding material that is comparable to that used during metal injection molding, but is significantly more efficient. In fact, it only uses about a tenth of the amount of resin that is used during the molding competitor. What’s more, there’s no need to remove the resin before sintering, and parts therefore do not require any molds whatsoever – unlike metal injection molding techniques. While metal injection molding is part of a growing market, Ricoh is effectively outpacing that technology in terms of production speed and efficiency. What’s more, the 3D prints are not encumbered by support materials or extensive support removal procedures, making this a very tantalizing production tool indeed.

While little is known about Ricoh’s commercialization plans, it does look like this 3D printer will become a reality as the company already revealed that they can provide both the metal powder and the resin binder. Could this be the technique that makes 3D printing a mainstream production tool?



Posted in 3D Printer



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nikk wong wrote at 6/27/2016 4:47:38 AM:

Misleading title. This does not "make metal injection molding obsolete".

Chrisdc wrote at 6/27/2016 1:48:02 AM:

Yeah resin binding is not sintering. Honestly a lot of this article reads like an advert for Ricoh.

Ralph Resnick wrote at 6/24/2016 11:32:27 PM:

This is binder jet 3D Printing which was invented by MIT in the early 90's and commercialized by Extrude Hone/ExOne who have been providing parts and equipment for 20 years.

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