As the entire 3D printing industry matures, we’re beginning to see some evolution in the world of inkjet 3D printing. The latest firm to crop up with new, advantageous inkjet 3D printing is Berlin-based Quantica, which unveiled its T1 Pro 3D printer at Formnext 2021. The unique machine is designed to be able to 3D print multiple, high-performance resins at once, potentially overcoming the primary problem inkjet machines have typically faced.
Most inkjet 3D printers, namely PolyJet from Stratasys and MultiJet from 3D Systems, have relied on 2D inkjet print heads as the basis for their technology. Due to the limitations of this technology, these machines can only print with highly viscous resins. The types of materials that can be printed are photopolymers that cannot be used for high-performance applications, leaving inkjet machines for the production of stunning, yet not very functional, models and prototypes.
Quantica claims to have redesigned inkjetting from the ground up to print in 3D. By developing a new actuation principle that relies on brute force ejection of fluid from the printhead nozzles, the company believes it has overcome some of the issues associated with traditional inkjet designs. In turn, the startup’s technology is able to 3D print with more viscous materials.
As the Quantica team states in a white paper, “It is common for many functional materials to contain high concentrations of high molecular weight polymers or high load of solids. Both of those factors have a severe impact on viscosity to the point of making the fluids impossible to jet by conventional inkjet printheads.” With its novel printhead, the company is able to 3D print using resins up to 15 times more viscous than those used in existing multi material jetting systems.
The ability to process more viscous materials means 3D printing functional resins, including those used in stereolithography (SLA) and digital light processing (DLP). The primary limitation of SLA and DLP has been the ability to 3D print only one material at a time. This compares to inkjetting, which can 3D print many different photopolymers in a single build. Quantica has combined the advantages of both, potentially opening up a new world of 3D printing functional, multi-color, multi-material parts.
To introduce its technology to the market, Quantica has released the T1 Pro, a 3D printer dedicated to Application and Material Development Printer for researchers and industrial R&D teams. However, this is only the beginning of the startup’s market plan.
“Inkjet has long been adopted for traditional industrial printing of 2D applications. Our ambition is also to deploy the technology in high volume applications, where it adds meaningful value. To be a platform for many players to produce meaningfully, we want the right partners to be involved in developing the toolbox, and we are looking for more industrial partners to explore this,” says CEO Claus Moseholm.
Quantica claims to have demonstrated the ability to 3D print combinations of Class II medical device materials approved for permanent in mouth use and signed a Joint Development Agreement with a “leading” dental company. Together, they plan to create a 3D printer designed for combining up to six materials for the production of permanent dental applications. This development program will also include materials, software, and user interfaces.
As it creates a dental 3D printing package, Quantica will be exploring other verticals driven by any partners willing to push the use of inkjet 3D printing in their sectors. The company states, “At this moment Quantica is seeking specific partner funded applications by re-using or re-shaping the technology already developed and by joining strengths with companies with market knowledge and access. Applications seen with good fit under the technology and business model include micro-fluidics, biomedical, optics, printed electronics, flat panel displays, adhesives and coatings.”
Joining the Quantica team as CTO just this year is Ramon Borrell, who was involved in the development of large-format inkjet printers at HP before joining Xaar, where he went on to become CTO. Xaar was acquired by Stratasys earlier this year, as the 3D printing stalwart has rolled out its Xaar-powered selective absorption fusion technology, a type of high-speed selective sintering for polymer powders. Borrell said of his decision to join the team:
“Having been working as an inkjet technology strategy consultant for Quantica for six months I became increasingly convinced of the enormous transformative potential of their technology. Despite competing with other extremely interesting proposals from much larger and resourceful companies, Quantica’s case won due the attractive technical and business challenges, the dynamism and entrepreneurial culture of the company, and the possibility to belong to the next major growth adventure in inkjet.”
Quantica is not the only company working to expand the possibilities of inkjet. Most notably is Inkbit, which is applying machine vision and artificial intelligence to its own form of inkjet 3D printing. In the past, the Massachusetts-based startup has showcased the ability to integrate non-printed, functional parts into 3D printed items and is one of the few companies with in-process quality control. This means that there are surely others ready to come out of the woodwork to show off their own improvements to inkjet 3D printing and we can’t count Stratasys out entirely either.
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