AMS Speaker Spotlight: XJet Puts Ceramic 3D Printing to the Test

Formnext Germany

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XJet CBO Dror Danai will be participating in Additive Manufacturing Strategies 2022, Panel 2: Ceramics. In this post, Danai discusses how XJet is ‘walking the talk’ by replacing parts that have conventionally been made from metal and plastic in the company’s own Carmel AM systems with ceramic parts.

It’s all about the details’ at XJet and our exceptional R&D team continually review the performance and operation of XJet AM systems, redesigning parts and striving for perfection. Looking to elevate certain high-performance components, our engineers recently found a more efficient and economical way to design and manufacture using our own ceramics.

It sounds obvious – we build systems for ceramic part production – so of course we should be producing ceramic parts ourselves. However, accurate, easy to manufacture technical ceramics hadn’t been available previously, so designers and engineers, including our own, are simply not used to considering ceramics when they design machines. They have to get their heads around a new way of thinking. It’s the same as when designers had to shift from traditional manufacturing methods and all the concerns that came with it, to all the opportunities and freedom afforded by additive manufacturing. We now have that for ceramic.

The roller assembly design.

One of the parts reviewed by the team last year was our roller assembly. It’s an essential device, crucial to printing level surfaces and ensuring straight edges. If the surface alignment of each layer is not accurate, it can impact each additional layer deposited – affecting the overall accuracy of the part. With 24 printing heads and 512 nozzles on each printing head, the roller performs an essential task flattening each layer.

Because the roller assembly is positioned near some electronics, the challenge was that the parts needed high electrical resistivity, and in addition, both parts needed high flexural strength to function as intended. Once they laid out the problem like that, one of our mechanical engineers had an epiphany – he realized the brief was a perfect fit for our own zirconia ceramic material – which has very high flexural strength, abrasion resistance and is electrically resistant.

So now the roller registration pin door and roller pin lifter are ceramic parts, produced on the XJet Carmel 1400C. As it says in the name – the roller pin lifter is used to lift and lower the indicator calibration pin. The calibration pin door provides safe storage for the pin when not in use. Together they enable easier, better and more accurate roller calibration. The result is absolute level surfaces and straight edges, and even more accurate parts.

The roller pin lifter 3D printed in ceramic with XJet technology.

Whilst our initial focus had been on precision engineering and improving the quality of parts, by going through the process we discovered that we’d also found a quicker and more cost-effective way of manufacturing. Because we needed a relatively low quantity, and plastic or Teflon parts would require a costly mold, we reaped the advantages of additive manufacturing; slashing the cost of a set of two lifter pins by 61% versus CNC manufacturing, and the cost of the pin door by 52%.

The roller registration pin door 3D printed in ceramic with XJet technology.

This realization opened the door for our engineering teams to consider ceramic for additional uses. They now produce a part for the roller bearing assembly jig in ceramic. The complex geometry of this part was going to make it extraordinarily complicated for CNC manufacturing. And as a jig, we just need a one-off part until it wears out, and molds are costly for one-off parts. AM was the obvious choice for the part, and once again, we had the right material.

The roller bearing assembly jig 3D printed in ceramic with XJet technology.

The part needed to demonstrate high thermal insulation, because the device is heated to 70-80° C to make assembly easier and material needed to be hard enough to cope with the recurring action. This time, XJet alumina material was the perfect fit.

Next, the team designed a part to house the wiring of one of the Carmel 1400 sub-assemblies. The wire holder (seen in the accompanying pictures) not only ensures that the electrical wires are protected and kept neat and in order, but it also makes sure there is no electrical interference, as the ceramic insulates.

The wire holder 3D printed in ceramic with XJet technology.

As a business, XJet’s passion has always been about making the impossible possible – creating new things that simply haven’t been achievable before. However, this time, we’ve demonstrated a simple cost-saving exercise, whilst also producing new and better parts.

We have challenged ourselves to “walk the talk” and make parts using our own technology and systems. Do you face any challenges with mechanical parts? Have you ever considered using AM with technical ceramics to resolve such challenges?


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