Lithoz: ceramic 3D printing from entry-level to digital mass production
With its latest launch, the CeraFab Lab L30, ceramic 3D printing pioneer Lithoz has made its technology more accessible than ever. The new user-friendly 3D printer is perfect for producing ceramic components quickly, economically and sustainably, enabling entry into the 3D printing market for manufacturers across many different fields. This machine has been specifically developed to be an entry-level solution not only for those new to the technology but also for businesses looking to bridge the gap between first-part development and larger-scale production. The CeraFab Lab therefore has an important role within Lithoz’s wider lineup of 3D printing systems, as a standalone entry system or as part of a wider development and production solution, enabling customers to grow ceramic 3D printing into an established manufacturing technique.
In the following article, we’ll explore the unique features of Lithoz’s new CeraFab Lab 3D printer and see how they complement the company’s industry-ready series production solution, the CeraFab System family.
The CeraFab Lab
We had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Johannes Benedikt, Lithoz’s Chief Technology Officer, ahead of the CeraFab Lab’s unveiling last month. In our insightful interview, he explained where the inspiration for the new system came from: specifically, the need for a more accessible ceramic 3D printing system that could be used by researchers as well as by application and feedstock developers.
In engineering the system, Lithoz went back to its origins and drew from the first CeraFab 7500 machine to create a compact, user-friendly machine. Lithoz highlights three main characteristics for the CeraFab Lab L30: it is efficiently compact, user-friendly and cost-effective. It is important to note that, despite its lower price point, this machine offers the same high quality Lithoz customers have come to expect for printing industry-trusted engineered materials. A major focus in developing the CeraFab Lab was simplicity and speed; the use of DLP-based technology, which has very few parameters that need controlling, avoids the comparatively complex and time-consuming process of laser tuning.
Additionally, the CeraFab Lab’s upside-down building process ensures very low material consumption and speeds up the entire printing process by enabling a more rapid start to the process and faster removal of components. This also allows for more industrially friendly cleaning when compared to exposure from above, where parts have to be extracted from several liters of material.
This combination of properties makes the CeraFab Lab ideal for research labs as well as material and application developers. Lithoz is well aware of the importance of material development for many different industries and therefore offers features throughout the entire process chain to help customers develop their own feedstock. The open system of the CeraFab Lab facilitates the use of own materials, while the CeraAccess software lets customers unlock the full scale of 3D print job parameterization, allowing for direct access to the individual layers in a 3D layer image stack.
As Dr. Benedikt explained, Lithoz “thinks it is important to give all manufacturers access to 3D printing” and has therefore designed the platform to be a good option for newcomers to the industry that are keen to explore the potential of ceramic 3D printing technology. The CeraFab Lab enables them to develop and optimize applications, which can then be scaled up using the CeraFab System.
The CeraFab System
Designed for mass production and the manufacture of advanced parts, the CeraFab System series is compromised of three 3D printer models: the S25, S65 and S230. Each member of the CeraFab System family has a different build size (ranging from 64 × 40 × 320 mm to 192 × 120 × 500 mm, with extended z-axis) and lateral resolution from 25 µm to 75 µm, accommodating the production of both ultra-precise and large-scale parts. The high-performance mechanics, controls and rotating vat system make this one of the most user- and industry-friendly printer ranges on the market today.
The CeraFab System is engineered for high-productivity and repeatability, as well as high levels of digital automation. This is really what sets it apart from the entry-level CeraFab Lab. The production-grade platform has a very fast building speed as well as an automated database which stores and handles process data and print job documentation. Users also have the option to integrate add-ons, including live video for real-time print monitoring and remote transmission for process controls. As Lithoz states, “the CeraFab System family is the ultimate choice for enabling advanced 3D printing. IoT ready and designed for the digital industrial production of high-performance ceramics, our customers trust in these machines to advance their workflow and move them towards digital factories of the future.”
A quick case study
To demonstrate the capabilities of the CeraFab Lab, Lithoz highlights one particular case study in which an aerospike nozzle component was optimized and produced via 3D printing. The part design, which was specifically optimized for ceramic 3D printing, was manufactured using its entry-level machine, showcasing its ability to create highly complex components with excellent surface finishing.
Technical ceramics are well suited for applications in demanding environments because of their high-temperature and corrosion resistance, stability, electrical insulation and lightweight nature, among other properties. The aerospike nozzle, featured in the middle, was 3D printed using LithaLox 350, a high-purity aluminum oxide with excellent corrosion and temperature resistance, critical properties for these kinds of space applications. While this component has a height of 4 cm and maximum diameter of 2 cm, Lithoz printers are also well-suited for the production of both much smaller and far larger components ranging from less than a centimeter in height all the way up to half a meter.
This aerospike nozzle is an excellent example of how the CeraFab Lab can be used to further develop and fine-tune component designs, with the manufacture of first parts being rapid and economical.
In addition to the aforementioned 3D printing platforms, Lithoz offers a range of other systems tailored for specific applications areas. For instance, the CeraFab System S65 Medical is designed for medical and dental applications and is compatible with bioceramic materials, while the CeraFab Multi 2M30 is an innovative open system built for multi-material 3D printed parts using ceramics as well as metals and polymers.
This article was published in collaboration with 3dpbm.
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