A scalable ceramic 3D printing solution for serial production

A scalable ceramic 3D printing solution for serial production
From first part to serial production, Lithoz is your partner in ceramic innovation

The potential of ceramic 3D printing has been evident for some time. As a material group, ceramics have many properties—including strength comparable or superior to many metals, chemical stability, insulation capabilities and high resistance to corrosion and abrasion—that are advantageous to applications in the industrial, aerospace and medical segments, to name just a few.

However, ceramic additive manufacturing technologies have been slower to develop compared to polymer- and metal-based 3D printing, which has led many to see ceramic 3D printing as a technology of the future. As experts in ceramic AM, we at Lithoz are here to say, that is not the case: ceramic 3D printing, including serial production, is happening today.

Thanks to forward-thinking players in the aerospace, medical and industrial segments—as well as ceramic AM technology developers like Lithoz—a range of applications have been developed for the technology, going beyond prototyping and into full-blown serial production. At Lithoz, we are seeing this transition first-hand, as today roughly 25% of our customers have two or more Lithoz 3D printers in operation, and many are 3D printing over a thousand parts a month.
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Benefits of integrating ceramic AM

Broadly speaking, adopting AM is a great way for companies to trigger innovation. But it is about more than just installing a 3D printer: adoption entails updating business models and reaping the benefits of digital production, including lower process costs, shorter lead times, and new opportunities for product development and design. In short, the successful integration of 3D printing into a production workflow drives innovation and streamlines workflows in a significant way.

Admittedly, adopting a wholly new manufacturing process presents certain challenges. Therefore, having an experienced partner is a key element in optimally integrating AM into existing processes and structures. Having worked with many customers across research and industry, Lithoz is highly aware of this and has tailored its business model to support its clients, from initial adoption to eventual scale up.

We offer our customers an experienced support service that enables them to seamlessly integrate our ceramic 3D printing technology and, when the time comes, scale-up capabilities for serial production. Below is a testimonial from our customer CERIX, a leading provider of high-tech ceramics and a member of the Bosch family.

We at CERIX have been successfully using LCM technology for our innovative customer projects for years,” says Nikolai Sauer, LCM expert at CERIX. “For the continuous development of LCM know-how we can count on Lithoz as technology owner. The ideal format of the LCM intensive training contributes to a competence development with individual focus. The refreshing combination of in-depth background knowledge and practical demonstration offers a diversified experience with direct benefits, which we can transfer directly to our customer projects—our customers benefit from this.

 

Achieving serial production

In addition to our advanced customer support offering, Lithoz has a clear strategy for achieving serial production of ceramic AM parts. Central to this strategy is our CeraFab System family. Based on our LCM technology, our CeraFab printers are designed for scalability. Available in three different sizes and with variable resolutions, our modular CeraFab Systems make it easy for customers to increase their production capability. This is thanks to our “cascade” approach, which allows Lithoz users to combine up to four production units, resulting in a scalable, flexible production solution.

The cascading strategy is the result of industry experience. At Lithoz, we understand that many customers are not seeking to increase production through bigger build platforms. We have seen it play out in the metal AM segment, where companies undertaking serial production are largely working with small-build-platform systems. In short, bigger machines only make sense for large-scale parts, not necessarily for series production.

 

The LCM factor

Also crucial to Lithoz’s ability to offer a scalable, production-grade ceramic 3D printing solution is our LCM technology (Lithography-based Ceramic Manufacturing). The technology is capable of delivering the highest requirements of high-performance ceramics, in terms of mechanical performance, dimensional accuracy and reproducibility.

The process itself begins with a CAD model, which undergoes preparation and optimization. Once the model is prepped and sent to the CeraFab 3D printer, a ceramic-loaded liquid material (slurry) is automatically dosed and coated on top of a transparent vat. A movable build platform is then dipped into the slurry and selectively exposed to a light emitted from below the vat. The layer image is generated by a digital micromirror device (DMD) and a state-of-the-art projection system. This process is repeated until a three-dimensional green part is complete.

Compared to laser-based systems, our LCM platform offers a superior manufacturing throughput as well as a higher degree of reliability. In terms of productivity, the time-per-layer of our LCM process is the fastest in the industry. Laser-based systems, on the other hand, are limited because exposure time increases with increasing cross-sections.

Beyond the productivity of our LCM-based CeraFab 3D printers, the entire process chain, encompassing the removal and cleaning of components, must also be scalable. Because of the nature of the LCM process, which exposes layers from the bottom, very little material is needed for building reproducible layers and no blade-part contact ever occurs. The paste system, by comparison, which uses extrusion from above, has more complex post-processing because more material is required for the printing process.

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Scaling up ceramic 3D printing

At Lithoz, our extensive collaborations in industrial and research areas has allowed us to evolve into a leading partner for supporting customers in the adoption of ceramic additive manufacturing. By helping our clients to not only introduce but reap the long-term benefits of ceramic AM, we are playing our part in pushing the technology towards full industrialization.

 

For more information about integrating our Ceramic AM solutions into your production chain, or to scale up your existing ceramic capability, please get in touch!

07/22/2020
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