SME’s RAPID trade show has become the primary event at which 3D printer manufacturers and suppliers, along with ancillary equipment like 3D scanners, to announce and demonstrate their new products. Conference sessions educate both new and experienced users on the latest technology and techniques.Stratasys and others demonstrated new systems and technologies and two much-anticipated products were demonstrated or shown to the public for the first time: the XJet metal printer, and HP’s Multi Jet Fusion system.
Xjet was founded by the founders of Objet. After consulting to industry for a number of years, they have introduced the Nano Particle Jetting system. Extremely small (one to two orders of magnitude smaller than SLS or other powder technologies) metal particles suspended in a liquid ink are deposited via a print head. The build chamber is heated, so the liquid component quickly evaporates. Then a heating element passes over the print bead, fusing the metal particles together. Upon completion, the part is placed in a furnace to complete fusion [for most alloys]. Primary focus is currently stainless steel but a wide range of metal powders is anticipated.
There are a number advantages of this approach. First, the metal particles come in sealed containers, eliminating risk of inhalation or flame. Second, there is no need for the type of inert gasses used to prevent sparks or flame in other metal processes (which might be more aptly called 3D welding) and different agents can be used to facilitate removal of the part from the print bed.
After more than two years of announcements, Hewlett Packard demonstrated the first model in their Multi Jet Fusion system and gave briefings on the technology. This system is aimed at manufacturing applications, especially parts currently being made by the SLS [Selective Laser Sintering] process.
The first systems to be introduced uses black Polyamide 12 (like Nylon 12) powder, though other materials and colors are expected. The system deposits a layer of powder from a 13KG (28.6 lb) material cartridge in a heated build chamber, which is at an elevated temperature below the melting point. The print head passes over the bed and deposits jetting agents to define the edges and interior of the part. The jetting agents make the material more receptive to light energy, so when the bed is irradiated, the areas covered by the jetting agent fuse together. Another layer of powder is applied and the process repeats itself.
This process has many advantages compared to SLS, the process used for many production-printed parts today. Unlike SLS, each layer is “cured” or irradiated at once, rather than by the steered laser beam(s). Powder reuse is said to be much higher than SLS.
HP has made claims that this technology is 10 to 50 times faster than other processes, but this is their measure of build time, not total process time. Like other powder systems, the entire “loaf” must be removed from the system and the 25+ lbs of material allowed to cool to room temperature. Then the loose powder must be vacuumed and parts removed. The HP 4200 system has an optional post-processing system that accelerates cooling, which is otherwise as much as five times longer than build time.
The systems have a base price of $130,000. They are expected to have the most impact on the two primary manufacturers of SLS units, 3D Systems and EOS.
The conference schedule this year reflected the growth in 3D printed production parts. There were seminars on the business case for 3D printer use; regulatory acceptance for 3D printed medical products; current and future applications for direct metal printing; use of 3D printed patterns for different types of metal casting; and use of 3D printed parts to decrease supply chain costs for replacement parts.
Over 250 exhibitors displayed their products. There were over 100 3D printer manufacturers and dealers, from the largest (Stratasys) to many startup desktop printers, (mostly FFF, the public domain version of Stratasys FDM). This is the primary exhibit opportunity for metal 3D printer manufacturers to display their products.
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