Johnson Matthey Focuses on Binder Jet Ceramic 3D Printing, Opens New R&D Facility

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[Image: JM]

Some of the world’s most established chemical companies have been investing significantly in 3D printing, as the technology offers novel application opportunities for advanced materials. For example, BASF has partnered with HP and Essentium Materials, and will soon be opening its own 3D printing subsidiary, while SABIC has been addressing “the gamut of additive manufacturing” with new materials introductions and collaborations. Having recently celebrated its 200th anniversary, UK-based chemical giant Johnson Matthey (JM) has been eyeing advances in additive manufacturing (AM) for several years now and has made some big commitments to the technology this year. Britain’s most admired chemical company began looking into different additive manufacturing techniques eight years ago, ultimately moving forward with a dedicated interest in binder jetting technology for ceramics. As part of the company’s dedication to ceramic additive manufacturing, today JM has announced the opening of a new ceramic additive manufacturing lab.

Last month at the International Conference on Additive Manufacturing and 3D Printing, JM’s Research Group Leader in Ceramic AM, Samantha O’Callaghan, shared her company’s story to date in binder jet ceramic additive manufacturing. O’Callaghan’s presentation was of great interest to many at the conference, as she is leading the way in JM’s approach to scaling up ceramic AM activity. To frame the future of JM’s plans in additive manufacturing, O’Callaghan first detailed the company’s history with the technology, tracing back to 2009 when JM began its research efforts into various technologies.

Samantha O’Callaghan presenting at the AM Conference [Photo: Sarah Goehrke]

“We have core competencies in coating, material, catalytic materials,” O’Callaghan explained, which make the company a “good fit with AM. We see AM as an extension of our competencies. Ceramic AM offers new possibilities to extend our existing offering.”

[Slide: Samantha O’Callaghan/JM]

Binder jet AM proved to be the best fit for JM for a number of reasons, including porosity and flexibility characteristics, which O’Callaghan noted other technologies lacked at the time. Key to the decision to go with binder jetting were that the technology:

  • Produces porous components
  • Allows materials flexibility
  • Easier to scale up
  • Cheaper and faster than other AM techniques at scale

The “huge pores” created via AM is “great for us,” O’Callaghan explained, as it offers surface functionalisation; “We like the fact you’ve got huge pores in your 3D printing environments.” She noted that JM was in the process of scaling up its processes, having built a pilot plant and installing the latest equipment to allow for manufacture at scale.

“We actually produce all the components ourselves, as a full solution,” she said during her presentation. “We have bespoke machinery for post-processing, that’s absolutely essential; you need to find a way to post-process en masse. You’ve got to find a way to make that process automated, and we’ve done that by designing a bespoke solution.”

She noted during the July conference that there would be more “hopefully next month” — and now that time has come, with the announcement of a newly opened R&D lab focusing on ceramic additive manufacturing. The company notes that its new lab “will enable us to develop a greater understanding of 3D printing; characterising powders and inks to allow faster development and more effective solutions for customers.” The company continues to work with bespoke methods, creating ceramic products with feature sizes as fine as 400 µm in what it notes is a cost-effective solution for scale production of small, complex ceramics.

The new R&D lab is located in Royston, UK, and includes equipment capabilities encompassing the spectrum of full solution offerings that O’Callaghan had discussed at the AM Conference. Among the equipment offerings JM describes are:

  • QiCPic image analysis sensor [that] allows both [particle size distribution and shape] to be measured simultaneously in a dry atmosphere similar to the ‘in use’ environment
  • Freeman FT4, an advanced piece of equipment that allows 7 different test types, resulting in 21 different powder properties
  • PixDro ink jet printer, fitted with same printhead system installed across all of the R&D prototype and pilot plant printers
  • Mixer torque rheometer that allows powder-ink interactions to be measured

The new facility is testament to the chemical company’s investment in the future of ceramic AM as part of its business strategy. Stated goals for the lab include building upon the team’s understanding of 3D printing, improving their processes, and helping to create effective applications for their products.

“This new laboratory is a great step forward for Johnson Matthey. The cutting-edge technology will help us develop our 3D printing capabilities and offer customers truly bespoke solutions,” O’Callaghan said of the announcement.

Ceramic 3D printing has the potential to impact several of JM’s business opportunities across its operations; by investing into a new facility, the company is ensuring that it can keep abreast of the latest technologies and create its own scalable solutions. The company is also looking into other areas of 3D printing, including with the use of precious metal powders.

Discuss in the Johnson Matthey forum thread at 3DPB.com.

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