Insights from industry

Industrial 3D Printing Systems For Medical And Automotive Applications

AZoM talks to Joseph Kowen, VP Marketing and Sales at voxeljet, about the use of 3D printing across a wide range of industries, from art to automotive sectors.

Could you please provide a brief introduction to voxeljet and the sector that you work within?

voxeljet develops platforms for the printing of parts using powder binding technology. voxeljet parts are manufactured using a number of different material sets, primarily for sand and investment casting applications.

Our roots reach back to the year 1995. Our first patent was granted in 1998 and we printed our first sand molds at the Technical University of Munich in 1998.

voxeljet was then founded on May 5, 1999 with four employees at the TU Munich. In 2002, we sold our first particle material printers to BMW AG and Daimler AG, thus launching us into the automotive space. We launched our services business the next year.

During the next 10+ years, we built out our portfolio of 3D printing systems and today, we offer a full range of machine platform sizes, from smaller entry-level models to large-format machines, offering the perfect 3D print systems for diverse application areas.

We now have an installed a base of more than 50  printers worldwide, and we currently operate one service center. We are in the process of expanding our existing European service center from approximately 16,000 square feet to over 40,000 square feet of production space, and, with a portion of the proceeds from our IPO, we are also in the process of establishing a new service center in the US. Later this year we will begin the process of establishing additional service centers in Asia.

We are actively pursuing opportunities in our targeted verticals, which require larger scale parts frequently with high complexity and short lead times.

Our target industry verticals include:

  • Automotive
  • Aerospace
  • Film and entertainment
  • Art
  • Architecture
  • Engineering
  • Packaging
  • Education
  • Consumer products

3D printing seems to have gained a lot of interest very quickly. Why has it suddenly become such an important part of many different industries?

3D printing technologies have been around since the 90s, but recent interest has increased through the availability of scaled down and inexpensive printers for some plastic applications. This factor, coupled with the reduced cost of computing and a wider availability of 3D content, has driven a lot of consumer interest in the segment.

At the industrial end of the market, which is where voxeljet is active, the surge in interest in 3D printing applications is based upon a growing realization of the power of 3D printing to reduce product development times, and to facilitate new designs and business models based upon layered manufacturing.

In addition, the ability to create parts in new and often functional materials is driving industrial interest in the technology.

Could you give a brief overview of your printing systems and how they are unique?

Our printing systems works by selectively jetting a binder on to a particulate or powder base, and thereby building up a part layer by layer. Powder binding is a process in which layers of powder are bonded by a liquid agent that is deposited through a printhead.

This process has the fastest throughput and the lowest materials cost relative to other additive manufacturing technologies. We offer our customers the highest volumetric output rate in the industry due to the combination of our large build boxes and printhead speeds.

Our platforms facilitate a number of different binders and various particulate materials. Each combination of liquid binder and particulate base is called a “material set”. The most common of our material sets are used for sandcasting and investment casting or lost wax applications.

In addition to our unique knowledge of materials, our platforms are distinguished by their capacity to build large parts.

Our biggest build area is 4 x 2 x 1 m. This industrial-strength platform allows our customers to build small numbers of large parts or large numbers of small parts, or any combination in between. That means that we are beginning to offer manufacturing solutions to an increasing number of industries, shifting the manufacturing paradigm.

voxeljet’s VX2000 printer.

voxeljet’s VX2000 printer. Image credit: voxeljet

Could you describe the materials you commonly use in these printers in more detail?

Our commonly used materials are a variety of sand types for sandcasting, and PMMA for investment casting. In the sand application, the binder builds the mould itself and the core, so that the foundry can cast a wide range of metals without the need for conventional tooling.

The PMMA material is specially designed for lost wax or investment casting, enabling easy and clean burn out from the shell.

Because PMMA has a negative expansion coefficient at critical stages of the burnout process, the shell cracks less frequently resulting in excellent yields for the foundry.

How can 3D printing be utilised within the automotive industry? How has voxeljet been involved in this?

While mass production of large numbers of car parts still relies on conventional tooling, voxeljet plays an important role in the development process of each vehicle at the testing stage before a design is finally approved for mass production.

The ability to make parts without conventional tooling offers significant cost savings in the development process of vehicles. More significantly, avoiding the tooling stage is a considerable saving of time, speeding products to market with unprecedented swiftness.

Finally, voxeljet’s layered manufacturing offers unrivalled ability to cast complex geometries with ease, minimizing the number of parts required for the cores in molds for these parts.

voxeljet counts among its customers many of the world’s leading automobile manufacturers, which are always looking to integrate cutting edge technology in their most advanced development projects.

There have been many great stories about 3D printing being used successfully in medical applications – has voxeljet been involved in any medical case studies?

voxeljet’s involvement in the medical area is through the making of parts for sophisticated medical devices.

Specialized products in the medical area often involve complicated geometries and voxeljet parts can be cast into final parts easily and quickly. voxeljet is able to offer solutions for applications such as customized implants.

What are some of the other materials science and engineering applications for which 3D printing would be beneficial?

Many of the areas and applications are already addressed in one form or another by different additive manufacturing technologies. However, we will see that in each application area the quality of the parts, and more importantly the material properties, will continue to develop.

In the case of voxeljet, we will continue to develop new material sets suitable to a growing range of applications.

Why would manufacturers choose to use 3D printing instead of traditional machining techniques?

In the functional metal 3D printing area, the reasons to use 3D printing are threefold:

  1. Speed to market for the development of new products by eliminating lengthy and costly tooling production
  2. Freedom of design for complex geometries that cannot be manufactured easily by traditional techniques
  3. The ability to manufacture short runs of functional end products without tooling

Are there any issues that still need to be addressed with regards to the technique of 3D printing in general?

We believe that 3D printing techniques in industrial manufacturing applications have demonstrated clear benefits, so we do not see any technique-related issues. However, to continue to drive adaptation of 3D printing we will continue to focus on higher print speeds and lower costs.

Investing in research and development is a key component of our growth strategy, which should enable us to meet the needs of our target markets through the development of new material sets and 3D printers with bigger build boxes and faster print speeds.

How do you seeing 3D printing progressing in general over the next few years? Do you see it being adopted in homes?

As I mentioned above, we can expect materials to improve and costs to come down. Software and the user experience will improve, and the availability of 3D content will increase. As the “3D generation” come into the market, the ability to create new 3D content will become easier.

3D printing will to some degree be adopted in homes, although its rate of adoption might not match that of other less complex consumer technologies and products. The rate of adoption will be a function of the material properties that can come out of the machines. Since not all the parts we will want to use will be useful in one material, say plastic, so the usefulness of the parts that we build at home will not be boundless.

About Joseph Kowen

Joseph Kowen

Joseph Kowen was born in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1959 and joined the company in 2013 as VP of Sales and Marketing. Mr. Kowen has been active in the 3D printing and additive manufacturing area since 1999. Most recently he founded and managed Meimad3, the voxeljet dealer in Israel. From 1999 until 2004 Mr. Kowen served in a number of capacities for Objet Ltd. (now Stratasys Ltd.), including as VP Marketing, and as an advisor to the Board of Directors. He also served as manager for the development of sales channels in the Asia Pacific region.

Prior to Objet, Mr. Kowen worked for Iscar Ltd., a leading provider of metal cutting tools (now part of Berkshire Hathaway), in marketing and sales positions, including as President of Iscar Brazil between 1995 to 1998. Mr. Kowen earned an LLB degree from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and an MBA from the Weatherhead School of Management, Case Western Reserve University, in Cleveland, Ohio.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily represent the views of AZoM.com Limited (T/A) AZoNetwork, the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and Conditions of use of this website.

G.P. Thomas

Written by

G.P. Thomas

Gary graduated from the University of Manchester with a first-class honours degree in Geochemistry and a Masters in Earth Sciences. After working in the Australian mining industry, Gary decided to hang up his geology boots and turn his hand to writing. When he isn't developing topical and informative content, Gary can usually be found playing his beloved guitar, or watching Aston Villa FC snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

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