Israeli company Xjet corraled a lot of 3D printing and inkjet veterans into one firm and mixed in a lot of candle power from other industries. Out of this melting pot came a unique metal and ceramics technology that can make fine, highly detailed parts using a nanoparticle enhanced ink. Whereas a lot of the focus on Xjet, and the market in general, has been on their metal printing of 316L and other steels, its the ceramics that truly excite me. Ceramics are a series of very exciting materials with fantastic properties but so far the application area for these materials and the size of the ceramics 3D printing portion of our market is tiny. I believe that ceramics should see high growth in the coming years as people realize the types of cutting edge solutions that one can deploy with those materials.
One person who very definitely believes in ceramics is, Dror Danai, Xjet’s Chief Business Officer. Together with the Xjet team, he’s been looking for new applications for their printers worldwide. Dror’s focus is on “Making the impossible possible“, and I really like the team’s approach. Rather than look for existing volume or established manufacturing and try to replace these parts with 3D printing they are really focusing on new application areas.
By looking to solve problems and print parts that can not be made with other technologies they’re taking a high-risk high reward path. On the one hand, they have to be ready to absorb a lot of potentially wasted effort in promising things that come to naught. On the other hand they could find out some hidden home runs and exploit them before others know that they exist. It could work but it is a big bet on your people rather than you as a firm. Rather than focus on the manufactured inevitability which is the hallmark of Silicon Valley startups or the straight-up volume plays that are the realm of multinationals they’re betting that they can inspire, uncover and execute on needles in haystacks.
The humble needle may, in fact, lead to an early and resounding success for them. Working with Marvel Medtech the company has developed a ceramic needle that is guided to breast cancer tumors using MRI and can very precisely at the right point perform cryoablation. Cryoablation delivers an extremely cold gas or liquid to a spot where it is then released and destroys the tissue there. In this case it could be used to precisely destroy breast cancer tumors. Dror says that “there is still a lot of regulatory approval to do” but if successful it would be “revolutionary, not just for 3D printing but for the medical world.”
“What Medtech needed we’re extremely high-quality parts that could be made repeatably.” “These probes could not be made with any other technology, no other 3D printing technology, and no other technology” “Accuracy, detail and a thin inner channel..with a helix inside” we’re all key to making this part perform as needed. “Potentially this could be a medical procedure with relatively few false alarms and a high success rate..that would change breast cancer treatment..this is what I mean by making the impossible possible with Xjet.” Dror says that “we’re not looking to have Additive Manufacturing replace existing applications” but rather “focused on finding things that are impossible.” In the case of this Medtech cryoablation nozzle, if the treatment receives approval then “millions” of these nozzles will have to be 3D printed. In this case Xjet’s approach could pay off well for them (and people in general if this would make a difference for breast cancer!) but there are still bigger opportunities out there.
“Potentially there could be millions of 3D printed 5G antenna” and “several research projects by universities have shown that electromagnetic wavelengths which go in a 2D path can be diffracted in all directions through the tubes of a complex 3D ceramic part.” “This antenna will have no moving parts, no complex electronics..it is completely passive…and it could work forever..live forever..because it is made of ceramics.” Indeed, there’s still significant opportunity at the confluence of IoT, communications and our technology. The qualities of ceramics such as their hardness, resistance to temperature and chemicals as well as dimensional stability and wear resistance mean that they would make excellent components to tie the virtual even more to our world.
In high-end headphones, “a company has managed to improve on years of their own work by making ceramic earbud parts that give a high quality listening” experience to audiophiles and musicians. A Swiss watch company is also making zirconium parts with Xjet. They’re close to their first Belgian installation at Leuven University and early 2020 they will have two beta sites for aluminia one in the states and one in Israel, as well as a first Japanese installation. Xjet has also introduced a dedicated Carmel 1400 metal machine recently. Dror is buoyed by the company’s progress and says that “other technologies have problems with porosity or inner channels..and it is here and in quality, detail, and in manufacturing that we can make the difference.”
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