Materials are King
At this year’s Ceramics UK, the Interceram talked to Dror Danai, Chief Business Officer of the company XJet, about their metal and ceramic additive manufacturing technologies and solutions. Founded in 2005, XJet has developed and introduced the nanoparticle jetting technology.
Interceram: Let’s talk about your technology: Since nanoparticle jetting does not require the use of powder, it is safer to handle. What further advantages does the liquid suspension have?
Dror Danai: The advantages are in a few areas. I would say that number one are things related to the operation. It’s clear that if you work with a cartridge of material instead of dealing with fine powders, the operation is safer. Powders require some safety precautions, like respiratory protection for the employees. Number two: It’s simple. The learning curve of the employee is very steep. An employee runs our machines in two days. You also have the quality levels that you can go for. Because we are working with liquid we can go into the nano level. The last thing is that we use a different material, a different liquid, for the support structure of the part. The computer itself fills all the holes in the design with a different material which is not ceramic. It’s only there to hold the structure. We found a material that is water soluble, meaning that in the end we put the part out of the printer into water and the support structure dissolves. This liquid approach makes it very easy to create complex geometries, very small features and holes which were almost impossible to do and, I think, are still impossible to do with many other technologies.
Your printers can process ceramics and metals. Would it be possible to combine those two for multi-material printing?
Well, absolutely. But this is more into the future. In the lab we are already jetting more than one material. But this is not yet for commercial use, at least not for the next two years, because there is still much to do.
This is sometimes a sensitive issue for some people developing new AM technologies: How long does it take to print a part in comparison to conventional processing methods?
That’s a very good question, because what’s unique about inkjet is that it’s very fast. But it’s only very fast if we print a lot of parts. Imagine if we want to print a connector for an electric engine. This connector is about one centimeter by a half centimeter in length and width and maybe five millimeters high. If we want to print one piece like that it would maybe take two or three hours. But the beauty in the technology is that because we have a big tray in our printer and we can scan the entire tray, we can produce one thousand connectors in the same two hours. So the speed is based on the use, not on the system. The system can build more than one millimeter per hour regardless of the number of the parts we make. So what is the speed: Is it one every two hours or is it one thousand?
Let’s talk about the main applications of your technology: Which industry profits from it the most?
I think medical. Medical is a broad definition because medical includes three different sectors. One is implants, one is dental and the last one, on which I will give you an example, is the medical devices or probes. A user in Wisconsin in the US created a solution for healing breast cancer in a very early stage. What did he do? He connects a probe to an MRI, Magnetic Resonance Imagery. This is way more efficient in detecting tumors than mammographic tests or ultrasound. This probe acts like a small robotic hand. If you test a person’s breast and find a tumor, you can use this device. Inside this probe is a very fine ceramic that increases the speed of the probe. And it’s like a liquid nitrogen, it pushes it in a very high speed so that it will get to the tumor and freeze it. And basically by freezing the tumor you can kill it before the cancer has developed.
What would you recommend to companies who are interested in getting into AM? What facts should they take into consideration?
Well, first of all, materials are king. You need to have the right materials, because if not than the rest is obviously not interesting. The other thing is that you need to open your mind. A lot of people try to do what they are doing today with additive manufacturing. That doesn’t make sense. They have a process that is perfected to their needs with dozens of years of improvement. Additive manufacturing will not be able to give a better solution. Not necessarily. You need to look into things that you cannot achieve and that could give you a competitive edge.