Austria’s Lithoz is adding to its ceramic 3D printing portfolio though the acquisition of CerAMing, a German startup that has pioneered a process it calls layer-wise slurry disposition (LSD). The new asset is said to fill out the variety of offerings that Lithoz has, giving it a third, novel method for additive manufacturing (AM) with ceramics.
Three Types of Ceramic 3D Printing
CerAMing began in the StartupSlingshot program of BAM (Bundesanstalt für Materialforschung und -prüfung/German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing), from which is subsequently spun off. Its LSD technology is a binder jetting technique that produces highly dense components and allows for wider geometries than similar methods because green state parts tend to be tougher, allowing for more delicate parts or parts with greater overhangs.
LSD will complement Lithoz’s existing ceramic slurry 3D printing technologies, LCM and LIS. LIS involves the deposition of slurry onto a build plate, which is then selectively dried by a laser. The build is subsequently raised removing the slurry. Meanwhile, Lithoz’s erstwhile mainstay, LCM, is a vat photopolymerization technique, in which a digital projector is cast onto ceramic slurry. The green part is then debound and sintered.
Lithoz may have just missed its chance to acquire Admatec, purchased by Nano Dimension this past July. Perhaps the firm wants to expand into tooling, in the manner of Mantle. With LCM for small components at high resolution and LIS for large parts, Lithoz may have been looking for a Goldilocks type technology to round out its offering. Another possibility is that they no longer want to be wholly dependent on optics from Scanlab. Perhaps, for line-based, highly productive set-ups, a binder jetting approach would give them more productivity and lower cost per part. Lithoz CEO Dr. Johannes Homa provided just a bit of clarity:
“With the acquisition of CerAMing, Lithoz is expanding its technology portfolio through strategic acquisition for the first time. We see this technology as another key pillar in the realization of our vision to enable geographically independent, yet fully digitally connected global serial production in the ceramics industry. We have already been able to realize this with our market-leading LCM technology, and along with LIS technology we will soon also be able to further our goals with LSD printing as complementary technologies with the same high quality and without compromising on results.”
The Ceramic 3D Printing Market
Either way the Viennese firm is definitely not straying from ceramics. Ceramics have always been the once and future king of 3D printing. According to the Ceramics Additive Manufacturing Part Production: 2019-2030 report from SmarTech Analysis, the ceramics AM market will reach an estimated $4.8 billion in revenue by 2030. Many of the materials offer excellent strength, chemical resistance, heat resistance and more.
However, ceramic 3D printing has been finicky to implement. In traditional manufacturing, the materials are expensive and prone to long processing times. With AM, progress has been painfully slow. It is today difficult to get ceramic parts made when compared to metal or polymer parts. Services are limited in their use of ceramics processes. Adoption by industry has also been slower than expected.
XJet is Israel’s offering, along with Nano Dimension’s Admatec. Nanoe is an exciting offering, democratizing ceramics by offering it on material extrusion printers. However, I would have expected Markforged to get into ceramics long ago because they have an analogous bound metal technology and sintering, as well as debinding equipment. BASF, too, could pursue ceramics but has focused on 316L steel and other materials instead.
If there were to be greater investments and commercialization of ceramic 3D printing, there are breakthrough applications waiting for the world. Until then, ceramics will be always a bridesmaid and never a bride—except, of course, for the polyamorous Viennese at Lithoz.
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