Ceramic Inkjet 3D Printing Spun-off from Italian Printing Leader Durst Group

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We’re beginning to see a slew of new inkjet technologies entering the additive manufacturing (AM) market. While the process has evolved drop by drop over the past couple of decades, the expiration of patents and emergence of new methodologies is allowing for more rapid development more recently. The latest comes from a legacy producer of 2D printing systems, the Durst Group, whose spin-off, D3-AM, has announced the release of a new 3D printer for ceramic and other materials.

With a process dubbed Micro-Particle Jetting (MPJ), D3-AM’s LABII system is capable of 3D printing highly concentrated water-based suspensions with almost any particle size and distribution. In particular, the company is targeting technical ceramics, including coarse-grained silicon carbide and fine-grained zirconia. Once printed, the parts are sintered in a furnace to achieve a dense, ceramic part.

The LAB II 3D printer. Image courtesy of D3-AM.

Stefan Waldner, the Product Director of D3-AM GmbH, said of the technology, “The previous material limitations of traditional inkjet printheads were a significant roadblock to market breakthrough. By eradicating material compatibility restrictions, we are enabling the production of components previously considered impossible. Our technology has the potential to transform manufacturing processes of the future, from aerospace to energy transition.”

Characterized by their high resistance to heat, chemicals, and abrasion, technical ceramics find applications where other materials falter. The LABII system offers a viable solution for manufacturing intricate ceramic components that are otherwise difficult to produce. Especially for complex designs that include overhangs, hollow bodies, and varying wall thicknesses, D3-AM’s technology eliminates the limitations associated with many other ceramic 3D printing process, particularly vat photopolymerization-based techniques.

A rendering of a 3D printed heat exchanger made from ceramic. The physical version will be displayed at Formnext 2023. Image courtesy of D3-AM.

D3-AM is rooted in the technological pedigree of the Durst Group, a global leader in digital printing and production technology based in Italy. Founded in 1936, the Durst Group has a storied history of innovating printing technologies. Durst transitioned successfully from traditional photographic equipment to super-wide format inkjet printers and UV polymerization ink technology. Durst claims an employee pool of 880 people, with 20 branches and 150 sales and service partners globally.

The LAB II machine will be officially unveiled at Formnext 2023, but it won’t be the only inkjetting company in attendance. In addition to Stratasys, the leader in inkjet 3D printing, there will be a number of firms vying for that title. While Mimaki is attempting to usurp the throne for photopolymer inkjet technology, Quantica and Inkbit have developed versions of the process that allow for a broader range of materials than possible with other versions of inkjet.

However, D3-AM may be most closely watched by XJet, the inventor of nanoparticle jetting (NPJ). Though the Israeli company has struggled to get its technology off the ground at the scale that was initially anticipated, it has previously been the only maker of ceramic inkjetting machines. Unlike D3-AM, it has also developed a metal jetting technology, along with some successful customer relationships. For that reason, it has a substantial lead on D3-AM. Both may be eying HP, though, which previously demonstrated ceramics 3D printing via Multi Jet Fusion.

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