The CeraFab Multi 2M30 from Lithoz and the future of multi-material 3D printing
Lithoz, the leading developer of industrial ceramic 3D printers, has sought to shape the future of multi-material 3D printing with its CeraFab Multi 2M30 system since its launch in 2020.
Running on the company’s lithography-based ceramic manufacturing (LCM) technology, the machine is defined by its ability to print with two materials at the same time. This includes ceramic-metal, ceramic-polymer and ceramic-ceramic combinations.
Unlike conventional multi-material systems, however, the Multi 2M30 is designed to facilitate the emerging field of functionally graded structures. This unique direction taken by Lithoz paves the way for the development of new applications in the fields of aerospace, electronics, energy, health, etc. The machine can even be used as an open system allowing customers to develop their own materials.
Beyond multi-material 3D printing
Beyond simply activating multi-material parts, the 2M30 can also be used to 3D print functionally graded structures. By printing with two materials simultaneously, the system can program incremental changes in the composition and microstructure of a build. Essentially, a section of a part can be printed with one material and another section with another material. Two materials can even be combined within a single layer, resulting in components with varying combinations of mechanical and functional properties.
So what kinds of properties are possible? Thanks to Lithoz’s vast ecosystem of materials, parts can be designed to be both porous and dense, bioresorbable and bioinert, hard and ductile, conductive and insulating (with heat and electricity), magnetic and non-magnetic, transparent and opaque, and also multi-colored.
For example, an automotive component may have to support a tensile load at one end and a compressive load at the other end. A part like this would be subjected to different forces depending on the load area, so it requires a custom combination of graded properties, such as tensile strength and toughness, to optimize its performance. Rather than 3D printing the part in a single material or printing it in two separate parts that need to be joined, the 2M30 can simply print the two ends in different materials best suited to their roles.
Another strong competitor is the electronics industry, where conductive/non-conductive constructions will be of great value. A Multi 2M30 customer could 3D print the electrical contacts of a device using a conductive metal and the insulating case using a non-conductive ceramic material, consolidating the assembly into a single monolithic piece without losing any functionality. Dielectric materials can also be stacked on top of each other with PCBs inscribed on top or even inside the component, resulting in dense 3D circuits.
One company that has already realized the huge potential of the machine is CSA (Compound Semiconductor Applications) catapult, which recently received the UK’s first Multi 2M30 from Lithoz. As a government-backed research institution based in Wales, CSA Catapult will use the printer to develop previously impossible multi-material components for semiconductor devices once it becomes operational later this year. .
“The CeraFab Multi 2M30 3D Printer, part of DER’s investment in state-of-the-art equipment, is a valuable addition to our advanced semiconductor integration and packaging capability,” says Dr. Jayakrishnan Chandrappan, packaging manager at CSA Catapult. “This acquisition will help us develop new 3D-printed multi-material parts for high-power, high-frequency microelectronics packages, and multi-material printing facilities will produce energy-efficient, compact and affordable packaging.”
CSA Catapult’s research will help develop new applications for 3D printing that were previously unfeasible, as shown by researchers at the University of Leoben who, together with Lithoz, successfully harnessed the power of 2M30 to manufacture the strongest 3D printed alumina ever made.
CeraFab Multi 2M30: how does it work?
The company’s LCM process, considered by some to be the industry standard in ceramic AM, is a variant of vat light-curing. A build platform is lowered into a vessel of ceramic charged liquid, otherwise known as mud, and is selectively exposed to light from below via a digital micromirror device (DMD), which hardens the cross section of the first layer of construction. This process is repeated, layer by layer, until the 3D part is printed. The components must also be sintered after printing.
Unlike the company’s other 3D printers, the CeraFab Multi 2M30 is special in that it features two tanks instead of just one, allowing for two materials by construction with a simple switching mechanism. The system even comes with a fully automated cleaning step to prevent cross-contamination when transitioning between materials.
Using CeraFab Control software, materials can be combined within individual Z layers, between layers with defined boundaries, between layers with gradual variations in composition, and any combination of these for design freedom maximum.
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The featured image shows a gear 3D printed using Zirconia Dipped Alumina and Alumina. Each zone has different resistance properties. Photo via Lithoz.