Spanish startup Triditive will, according to 3D Printing Media Network, be partnering with Taiwanese electronics giant Foxconn to develop a new metal binder jetting technology. Foxconn, of course, is one of the world’s largest electronics manufacturing services companies, producing everything from Apple’s iPad to Amazon’s Kindle, to almost all current Nintendo consoles.
Despite its Taiwanese headquarters, the company is the People’s Republic of China’s largest private employer. It has also been frequently maligned for over a decade, due to the labor conditions reported in many of its factories. Probably the most notorious incident involving Foxconn was a series of suicides by workers in 2010, many of which occurred at the company’s industrial park in the city of Shenzhen, often referred to as “China’s Silicon Valley”. While it is known to use additive manufacturing (AM) for prototyping, this is apparently the first time that news has broken of Foxconn’s developing its own AM technology.
Triditive’s AMCELL 8300 printer is noteworthy for being, as the company puts it, “The first and only large 3D printer solution able to mass-produce parts in metals and polymers.” The machine is highly automated for high-throughput production. This means automatic calibration, as well as loading and unloading of build platforms, and a conveyor belt for ejecting completed prints into a storage system.
Although Triditive specializes in bound metal (and polymer) extrusion machines, bound metal extrusion and metal binder jetting yield parts according to somewhat similar principles. Both processes produce components that need to be finished by being sintered in a furnace. The difference is that, whereas extrusion printers use filaments containing metal particles, binder jetting systems deposit liquid binders onto beds of powders — including metals — to join the latter materials together, layer-by-layer.
Generally, the difference in technique makes extrusion printers more ideal for desktop applications and prototyping. Binder jetting, on the other hand, is better-suited for larger-scale and series production. However, the fact that Triditive has been successful in developing systems capable of mass-producing metal parts with extrusion means that the company has a handle on performing the sintering phase on a large scale, which may be what makes the company an attractive partner from Foxconn’s perspective. Triditive will work with Tecnalia, an R&D organization also located in Spain, and the renowned German Fraunhofer Society, to develop binders for the new system. It’s also worth noting that Triditive is backed by Stanley Black & Decker, which has steadily been increasing its presence in the AM industry.
Little is still known about the collaboration, yet it’s easy to speculate that Foxconn could eventually use AM to automate at least some minimal though significant chunk of its enormous output commitments. (3DPrint.com’s Michael Molitch-Hou has already been speculating on similar topics for some time.) But the timeline, as anyone who follows 3D printing news knows, is everything. While we’re presumably still very far away from Foxconn mass-producing iPhones with 3D printers, it will be interesting to see how quickly this particular project develops, and how long it takes before Foxconn — or one of its major partners or competitors — makes more news involving 3D printing.
Images courtesy of Triditive
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