Epson leans further into 3D printing as subsidiary unveils plans to open new metal powder facility

Material manufacturer Epson Atmix Co (Atmix), subsidiary of the multinational Japanese electronics firm Seiko Epson Corporation (Epson), has unveiled plans to establish a new metal powder factory. 

Set to open by 2025, the complex is expected to feature metal recycling facilities, that enable scrap materials to be turned into usable alloy powders with 3D printing potential. Atmix’s announcement closely follows Epson’s own revelation that it plans to finally enter the additive manufacturing sector with a new industrial extrusion 3D printer, some eight years after first signaling its intention to do so.

Atmix's Kita-Inter Plant. Image via Epson.
Atmix’s Kita-Inter Plant. Image via Epson.

Epson finally segues into 3D printing 

Although Epson is primarily known for its 2D printing exploits, it has made no secret of its aspiration to expand into the 3D printing industry. As long ago as 2014, the firm’s President Minoru Usui talked openly of wanting to move into 3D printing, not just with a consumer technology, but a full-on 3D printer capable of addressing industrial applications. 

However, Epson registered its dissatisfaction with the state of 3D printing at the time, and indicated that its segue into the market would take at least five years. That being said, Usui also committed to developing an offering that, once ready for launch, would “change everything” by providing users with “machines to make anything” from “almost any material” they could lay their hands on. 

Epson’s pivot into the sector took a step closer to reality in 2017, with the launch of its Vision 2025 Strategy, but it wasn’t until March 2022 that it finally introduced its inaugural 3D printer. As you’d expect, the machine’s long-awaited unveiling attracted a significant amount of hype in the industry, but little was revealed about how it would actually be commercialized. 

Powered by what Epson calls a ‘unique extrusion method,’ in which a flat screw, like that found in its injection molding machines, is used in place of a nozzle, the system is said to enable manufacturing via ‘commonly available’ third-party pellets. Given that pellets tend to be cheaper, and lend themselves better to faster processing than filament, the 3D printer could offer adopters cost and lead time benefits. 

The company’s upcoming machine is also understood to feature a mechanism that allows the temperature of materials to be precisely controlled during production, to ensure that resulting parts have excellent strength. This functionality is believed to be central to the system’s application in end-use part production, and Epson says it could be ideal for functional prototyping and small-batch manufacturing. 

Yet, while the company has finally unveiled its inaugural 3D printer, it admits that it has to “make needed refinements” to the system before it can be brought to market. In the meantime, Epson is set to deploy the machine internally as a means of producing parts for commercial and industrial equipment in ‘large volumes.’

The 3D printer features unique flat screw technology that enables it to extrude pellets. Photo via Epson.
Epson’s 3D printer features a unique flat screw technology that enables it to extrude pellets. Photo via Epson.

Atmix’s eco-focused expansion 

Founded as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Epson in 1999, Atmix produces both magnetic powders with power supply circuit applications, and alloys for Metal Injection Molding and 3D printing. Having set itself the goal of weaning itself off non-renewable resources as part of Epson’s Environmental Vision 2050 initiative, the firm says it now plans to “invest billions of yen” in its recycling capabilities. 

Chief among these facilities will be a new factory, equipped with an induction furnace, refining equipment and a pig casting machine for turning recovered metals into ingots. In practice, this setup is expected to allow Atmix to create a closed-loop manufacturing ecosystem, in which its defunct powders, as well as the waste and used molds and dies of Epson and its partners, can be recycled.

According to the company, the factory could be so effective once open, that it enables a 25% reduction in its raw metal consumption, within just three years. In addition to helping reach its goals for a more “sustainable and enriched society,” Atmix also describes its expansion as necessary to meet customer demand, which it “expects to increase in future.”

HP has also managed to gain traction the 3D printing market having traditionally operated in the 2D space. Image via HP.
HP has also managed to gain traction the 3D printing market having traditionally operated in the 2D printing space. Image via HP.

Moving from 2D into 3D printing 

Epson’s eventual arrival in the 3D printing space has rightly captured a lot of attention, but it’s not the first 2D printer manufacturer to make the transition. One of the highest-profile previous examples of this is HP, which continues to make inroads with its MultiJetFusion offering, and the firm reported achieving “significant” 3D printing growth in Q1 2022

Much like Epson, Xerox has entered the 3D printing industry recently as well, via the launch of its inaugural system, the ElemX. However, as opposed to its traditional 2D printing rival, the company has chosen to enter the sector via the acquisition of Vader Systems rather than develop its own technology. Xerox’s machine is also already in the hands of clients like Vertex Manufacturing, thus it’s further ahead. 

Other firms with 2D as well as 3D printing portfolios include the likes of Ricoh and Mimaki. The latter has made a notable splash in the industry with its full-color inkjet systems, which have been used in the past to 3D print lifelike anatomical models

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Featured image shows Atmix’s Kita-Inter Plant. Image via Epson.