Six next-generation 3D printing technologies
3D printing has been around for more than 30 years, and it’s been slowly evolving. It wasn’t until around 2009 that it rekindled public interest in the technology with the release of low-cost, open-source commercial 3D printers. Now, not only are these entry-level 3D printers being hyped in the media, but industrial-grade additive manufacturing is booming.
Not only are existing manufacturers of 3D printing equipment pushing forward their technology, but a number of startups have emerged that have revolutionized 3D printing technology, bringing new materials and new printing speeds unexpectedly. Here are six of the most exciting technologies that have emerged in recent years.
1. CLIP technology of Carbon company
Despite a number of new 3D printing processes that have emerged in the past two years, Carbon’s CLIP: Continuous Liquid Interface Production may be a model for the next generation of 3D printing. CLIP technology overcomes a major defect of 3D printing — speed.
By using oxygen-permeable glass between the resin tank and the LED projection engine, Carbon’s technology can 3D print the object in 10 minutes. As Carbon says, the parts grow out of the resin tank without the layered lines of other 3D printing processes.
So far, the silicon valley startup has received 222 million yuan in investment, including a recent 81 million yuan from GE. The reason behind these investments is its ability to 3D print terminal parts almost instantaneously.
Through the two-step light curing process, the parts processed by CLIP process show the same mechanical properties as the injection products. The essence of CLIP process layer-less printing makes the parts have isotropic strength, that is, the strength is the same in all directions. Secondary curing further improves product performance, such as higher stiffness or toughness.
At present, many large companies are using CLIP process to produce hand parts and end products. Johnson & Johnson hasn’t disclosed the use of the technology, but has shown strong interest in personalized medical devices. BMW USES Carbon technology to make nameplates for MINI Coopers and print hand parts for other vehicles. Ford and Delphi are also printing prototypes using CLIP technology.
And at the RAPID conference, an Israeli company called XJet unveiled for the first time its NanoParticle Jetting technology, which is quite amazing. First, the NPJ process deposits nanoparticle metal “inks” onto the substrate using piezoelectric print heads. The heat in the forming chamber causes the liquid solvent to evaporate, leaving metal particles stuck together. After printing, the product is further sintered in the furnace to produce completely compact metal parts.
What’s so exciting about this process is that it can reach an unprecedented thickness of 1 micron. Further, it USES a special support material that burns completely during sintering. This means that for complex parts that other metal 3D printing processes are not capable of, nanoparticle injection technology can be easily implemented.
Other metal 3D printing processes (such as direct energy deposition or selective laser melting) have a typical feature, such as cantilever structure and other design features that require support structure, which is removed by CNC after printing. However, for NPJ process, in addition to sintering, no additional post-treatment process is required. Thus, the NPJ process can 3D print moving metal parts (such as interlocking gears) in one go.
The technology is so flexible that it can also be used to 3D print ceramic products.
3. HP’s multi-jet melting technology
The 3D printing industry has once again opened its doors with HP’s public introduction of MJF: Multi Jet Fusion, which involves depositing binders and refiners onto layers of powder that are then fused together by infrared lamps.
They print nylon 10 times faster than the SLS process. The use of a powder bed allows this process to print products as complex as SLS, but with better results. And this is just the beginning.
HP has already demonstrated some of the potentially fascinating features of the MJF process, which will be available to consumers in future releases. By introducing extra ink into the process, 3D printing of full-colour products is possible, but SLS is also impossible. At the RAPID conference, HP demonstrated its ability to print embedded circuit parts. By using conductive ink in the MJF process, it is possible to print out functional stress sensors in one go.
The HP team also showed off other conceptual design features, including compact fine ceramics, 3D printed colored parts with embedded AR codes visible, and printed UV readable signage invisible to quantum dots.
4. Carbon fiber 3D printing
Carbon fiber 3D printing is starting to take off, although there is only one company on the market that offers continuous carbon fiber reinforcement. Markforged created that trend in 2014 with CFF: Continuous Filament Fabrication technology. CFF process can deposit thermoplastic carbon fiber continuously, and print high-strength and lightweight parts that cannot be realized by other processes.
Markforged soon experiences fierce competition from industry leaders and other start-ups. In 2016 EnvisionTEC surprised the industry, previously known for its photocuring and bio-3d printers. At the RAPID conference this year, the company demonstrated its large reinforced fiber 3D printer.
The process is called SLCOM: Selective Lamination Composite Object Manufacturing. It USES reinforced materials, such as carbon fiber or glass fiber, to be premixed with thermoplastics, such as polyether-ketones or nylon.
5. Large hybrid 3D printer
Large hybrid 3D printers are also growing fast. After the equipment manufacturers Cincinnati and ORNL (Oak Ridge National Laboratory) teamed up to develop large-format 3D printers, a growing number of CNC manufacturers are joining the industry in developing their own large-size extruders. In fact, ORNL was one of them.
6. Electronic 3D printer
Making fully functional products has long been the ultimate goal of 3D printing, including complex electronic devices. There are only a few devices on the market that can do this, including the Voxel8 Kit and DragonFly 2020 from the Nano Dimension. While the Voxel8 system 3D prints conductive plastic, DragonFly 2020 is primarily used for printed circuit boards.