A Journey About the Part: XJet Leverages Additive Manufacturing Expertise for Production
Israel-based XJet draws from about as much experience as a company can have in additive manufacturing, bringing decades of know-how into a decades-old industry. Hanan Gothait, the company’s CEO, noted during the XJet press conference at formnext 2017 that he “was the founder of a company called Objet.” That humble introduction of a company that went on to be acquired by Stratasys and form a major foundation of the shape of the 3D printing industry formed as well a backdrop to the story that has evolved into a company taking inkjet technology to its next progression.
With Objet, Gothait explained, “the idea was to do a prototype machine” – and with the 2012 Stratasys merger, that idea led to what he described as “the largest company in the world for plastic prototypes.” Moving beyond the origin story, Gothait and XJet have leveraged significant technological and business experience to a new plan: “The idea this time was for production,” he explained, with focus on ceramics and metals. On Tuesday at formnext, XJet formally unveiled what they had announced just ahead of the show, the Carmel additive manufacturing system.
“Our team in Rehovot has been working very hard to make this possible,” he said, noting that now the company is 85 employees strong and growing. “We have 10 Carmel printers at home working 24/7, and we are proud of it. In 2017, we increased our staff by 50% and will probably see the same in 2018; the company is going from an R&D startup to a commercial business.”
Gothait introduced two new-to-the-company executives, as well: Haim Levi (VP of Manufacturing and Defense) and Avi Cohen (VP of Healthcare and Education). The two will be important as, Gothait noted, the company is focusing on these two segments as major focuses for future expansion.
“At our booth, you will see technology you will not see elsewhere,” XJet CBO Dror Danai said with his typical effervescence.
These technologies, he said, included:
- Direct Material Jetting (for metal and ceramics, with two materials; one for the build, one for supports)
- Build and Support Simultaneously
- Nanoparticles and the Thinnest Layers
- Stochastic Particles in Size and Shape
Touching on the size of particles used, Danai was adamant that XJet utilizes through their unique NanoParticle Jetting (NPJ) technology the smallest powder particles possible, lending unique characteristics to their builds. The smallest particle seen anywhere else at formnext, he said, is 33 times larger than the largest used by XJet.
The work they are doing toward fully dense parts using multiple materials will, he said, be seen as near as 2020. XJet, Danai noted, “are long-term players in general,” as developments “do not happen overnight.” When they do happen, however, it is with precision in view.
“The stochastic, or random, approach is possible because we use a liquid dispersion instead of powder bed. Most powders are spheric, but we don’t need that; because of that, we get perfect packing. It is a 99.9% density, after sintering,” Danai explained.
“It will be all the way down, not to the voxel level – but less than the voxel,” Danai said of the accuracies possible through their methods. “It will be down to the drop level.”
The Carmel itself has a 1400 cubic centimeter tray with high productivity, featuring 24 inkjet printheads with 12,228 nozzles for 222 million DPS.
“It’s a large machine, but it’s a printer at the end of the day. For installation and operation, there is no learning curve; there are no lasers. The real excitement is the growth of the team, as we are moving into the real commercial stage,” Danai explained.
The Carmel recently saw its first global installation at Oerlikon in Germany, as Andreas Berkau, Head of Additive Manufacturing Services, Europe, from that company discussed. The entire additive manufacturing value chain is, he noted, “important to Oerlikon.”
“We chose XJet – I remember when we first spoke about this technology; it was absolutely different from powder bed. It sounds very simple, and opens the door to new applications. Instead of using powder, it is using ink; this is very safe and moves toward manufacturing – which is important, moving from prototyping to production,” Berkau explained. “We are impressed with XJet; they have experience and expertise.”
The Carmel system will also see its first installation in the United States, where it has found a home at the Youngstown Business Incubator (YBI) / America Makes.
To learn more about everything XJet has been working toward, I sat down after the press conference with the company’s CEO to discuss more about their plans. We spoke first about the star of their booth: the large Carmel, which took a lot of focus.
“People may see products that are cheaper, and then they see ours,” Gothait said, acknowledging the steep price tag attached to their system. “What I say is: look at the final part.”
He continued, “The printer is the way of making the final product, which is most interesting to our customers. Maybe the industry forgets to talk about this when talking about the technology. We put in a huge amount of effort to make this effortless, these complex geometries; we want the experience for the customer to be design the file and press print, then get what you need.”
The growing team behind the Carmel features “many PhDs” who work on “keeping the technology in sight,” Gothait underscored. In terms of density and surface finish, “we want these to be the best.” While certainly a good deal of this effort comes from professional pride, at the end of the day it is indeed the customer in sight for XJet.
“When I see new technology released that makes life easier for the customer, it makes me happy,” he said. “The final part – this is what matters.”
During formnext, the booth was consistently crowded, whether from those intrigued by the press conference, drawn in by the celebratory first-night booth party (also celebrating a few executive birthdays with toasts from industry notables), the large sleek machine, or the virtual experience offering a VR look into the technology. “Many customer inquiries” were among these visits, Gothait said, as the Carmel proves intriguing to those who might benefit from installation. Still, it is important to the XJet team to move at the right pace, keeping close tabs on getting the process started with bringing the Carmel to market.
“Our first customers are our most important ones,” Gothait told me. “These will be reference customers. We searched a long time for the right matches, and these are very important to us. The way YBI is open is important to us – and Ohio is an important market for us. With aerospace, military, education, and industry – all is there. I was so happy to hear Oerlikon talk so enthusiastically [at the press conference] too; we work really hard with them, and it’s really great to see this come together.”
Looking ahead, Gothait and his team see “endless possibilities” for the system they are developing. Multi-material capabilities could indeed open new doors in demanding verticals, such as the medical and aerospace industries. Building, for example, a part to tight tolerance with the bottom made of ceramics and the top of metals would offer a new array of opportunity.
“It will be expensive, it will be unique – and suddenly you can do things you could never do before,” he said of future potential, admitting to the capital costs involved, as well as the cost savings that could emerge through application.
“It’s huge. I’m an engineer, and this is wholly new. It makes it very exciting. It is running at a super high temperature, and a speed that is incredible. If you can improve by 5%, it is a huge revolution; we think we can improve by 20%. The same airplane will then consumer 30% less fuel, with ceramics used in the body, in the engine. This is a holy grail for many industries, too, such as medical guides.”
While in many respects the company remains tight-lipped regarding specifics (Danai noted in response to a press conference inquiry that they “can’t elaborate now” about dental developments, but that we should “stay tuned”), it is very clear that XJet is working with a very specific strategy in mind. Much of this comes down to the companies they choose to partner with; it was no accident that Oerlikon and YBI represent the first installations, and Gothait noted as well an “amazing partner” yet to be publicly named with whom XJet is working on additional aspects.
As XJet brings its Carmel additive manufacturing system to the market and continues to partner with well-known entities experienced in various aspects of industry, the Israeli company is leaning on its own wide expertise in 3D printing to advance unique capabilities in high-end applications and new geometries.
Discuss formnext 2017, and other 3D printing topics, at 3DPrintBoard.com or share your thoughts in the Facebook comments below.[All photos: Sarah Goehrke]
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