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The Resurgence of 3D Printing Using Binders
Rachel Gordon
NOV 02, 2015 11:10 AM
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The Resurgence of 3D Printing Using Binders

by Rachel Gordon, Technology Analyst IDTechEx

Jetting binder on layers of plastic powder was originally developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1993. This binder-on-powder process was the first to be known as "3D printing technology.” Although, the binder-on-plastic technology has fallen out of fashion, binder-on-sand and binder-on-metal are both seeing rapid growth and increased awareness. We expect there will be 37,000 binder-jetting 3D printers by 2025 ― which provides an exciting opportunity for a wider variety of binders.

Z Corp. Technology

The most famous name in binder-on-plastic printing is Z Corporation – better known as Z Corp. Z Corp.’s prototyping process creates 3D physical models by solidifying layers of deposited plastic powder using a liquid binder. Z Corp. developed 3D printers that operate at low costs, and within a broad range of prototyping applications. The binder can incorporate colored inks, so you can print in a multiple, washed-out colors. In 2012, 3D Systems acquired Z Corp. – and although the company’s name is disappearing, these 3D printers are still commercially available. Approximately 6,000 have been sold, mainly for prototyping, but they are now fairly unfashionable. Ink-jetting of photopolymers, or thermoplastic extrusion with multiple nozzles, offer stronger, more vibrant, multi-colored parts, but they are more expensive machines.

3D Lab

The 3D Laboratory at the Technical University of Berlin uses four Z Corp machines as their “work horses: Z650, Z510, Z510  and Z310. They do the majority of their work using these machines, despite having a wide range of technologies available. 3D Lab cooperates with research and public institutions, as well as with small-and medium-sized companies. They also work with a variety of museums and zoos to 3D print replicas for educational purposes.

ExOne

The ExOne Company is also a licensee of the powder-bed inkjet method of MIT. The company's printers are compatible with sand, as well as glass and metal proprietary powders.

ExOne manufactures and sells inkjet-based 3D printers, develops and sells its own materials for printing and binders for jetting, and provides a service bureau for customers who do not wish, or cannot afford, to buy its printers.

The main markets served by the company are aerospace, automotive, heavy equipment and energy sectors. Its primary area of application is the generation of complex sand moulds for low-volume/ high-value manufacturing. Producing a sand mould for casting is a delicate and labor-intensive process that is a prime target for simplification by 3D printing.

Voxeljet

Voxeljet also manufactures 3D inkjet printers under another non-exclusive license from MIT. Voxeljet offers 3D printing services across a range of industries, and also develops materials for use with its printers. The company was founded in 1999, but did not get listed on the NYSE until October 2013.

Voxeljet is pleased with its sales of sand printers. Their unit sales had increased from 19 in 2014 to 25 in 2015, with each printer costing €120k-1.6m.

The primary industry sector served by Voxeljet is aerospace. However, it also serves foundries, automotive industry, artists and architects; and also provides prototyping services to product development specialists.

Binder Chemistry

For sand, four different binders are used:

•                Furan: This is most popular in industry ― good for casting high temperature metals.

•                Phenolic: This is also popular in industry. Phenolic binders release volatile organic compounds that - when they burn off - affect the human endocrine system; however, this is not really a problem for users in a foundry because they already take a lot of precautions against similar chemicals.

•                Silicate: Silicate is environmentally friendly as it burns to form ethanol. This is increasingly used, and now offered by both Voxeljet and ExOne.

•                Alkyd: This is only really used in research.

For binding other materials, there are an even wider range of possibilities. Binders can change properties of the final object, including strength, toughness, surface roughness, color and transparency.

Hoeganaes

Description: https://www.hoganas.com/imagevault/publishedmedia/i89ixu7flu0wsqsq3orm/130830-178.jpg

Hoeganaes has been producing iron powders since the 1930s and now has a subsidiary, Digital Metal, which specializes in manufacture of steel-based metal powders for 3D printing. The company has its own inkjet-based powder-bed 3D printing technology which it acquired from Fcubic AB in 2012, as well as its range of 3D printing steel-based metal powders. The company does not currently retail either technology but instead offers 3D printing services. It uses its own printers and powders to generate 3D printed objects to order. Its main markets will be aerospace, the medical device industry and jewelry.

The latest technologies in 3D printing can be seen at the IDTechEx Show! Nov. 18-19, in Santa Clara, California. For more information visit 3D Printing USA 2015.

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