3D Printers

ExOne set to launch world’s largest binder jet 3D printer for reactive metals

Having recently been issued a patent for an inert build chamber design, ExOne, a manufacturer of binder jet 3D printers, has announced a new version of its X1 160Pro 3D printer.

With a build volume measuring 800 x 500 x 400mm (160 liters), the X1 160Pro is the company’s largest metal and ceramic printer to date. The original model only started shipping from ExOne’s European headquarters and production facility in late 2020, but the manufacturer already has its eyes set on an upgrade.

Set to launch in the second half of 2022, the upcoming model will feature a new inert gas build chamber, allowing customers to process reactive metals such as aluminum, titanium, and copper in a controlled atmosphere. According to the company, the new model will be the world’s largest binder jet metal 3D printer with an inert chamber.

While the patent was only issued in December 2020, it’s worth noting that ExOne has been offering controlled chambers with some of its systems for a number of years now. ExOne has stated that it will continue to develop and support the original 160Pro model, which is sufficient for customers not looking to process reactive metals.

“Our technology roadmap has been leading us to this machine for more than two decades,” said John Hartner, CEO at ExOne. “At the same time, the X1 160Pro was also designed in response to growing demand from automotive, defense and aerospace customers. We’re incredibly proud of what this model means for the future of metal 3D printing and sustainable production of large metal parts without design limitations.”

The new X1 160Pro 3D printer. Photo via ExOne.
The new X1 160Pro 3D printer. Photo via ExOne.

Binder jet 3D printing with ExOne

ExOne is undeniably one of the key players in the binder jetting space. The company already offers a number of metal, ceramic, and sand 3D printers for a variety of applications in aerospace, automotive, and tooling.

The original X1 160Pro is the 10th 3D printer developed by the manufacturer, and boasts a print speed topping 10,000 cm³/hr. The machine comes complete with ExOne’s Triple Advanced Compaction Technology (ACT), which reportedly improves part density and repeatability.

The smaller-scale X1 25Pro features a build volume measuring 400 x 250 x 250mm and delivers a build rate of up to 3600 cm³/hr. The system also houses patented ultrasonic dispensing technology to optimize powder flow.

3D printed Inconel 718 parts. Photo via ExOne.
3D printed Inconel 718 parts. Photo via ExOne.

Why might you need an inert gas chamber?

An inert gas chamber is absolutely crucial for those looking to 3D print with reactive metals, whether that be via binder jetting or a laser-based 3D printing process. The feature ensures that loose powder in the powder bed does not oxidize, all while helping to control humidity and improving material spreadability. This, in turn, eliminates impurities in the raw feedstock and results in higher-quality 3D printed parts.

The new controlled-atmosphere X1 160Pro will be compatible with both argon and nitrogen, two chemically inactive gases commonly used in industrial 3D printing systems. Unlike the original model, the upcoming X1 160Pro will also be integratable with additional ancillary systems such as a curing oven, powder conditioning system, depowdering station, and an air-tight transport device for moving the build-box between the various stations.

Once launched, users of the new system will be able to 3D print with over 20 qualified binder jetting materials, including inconel, stainless steel, cobalt chrome, and others.

Just last week, ExOne revealed that its annual revenue increased by 11% during 2020. With an increasing demand for high-throughput metal binder jetting technologies, the company generated $17.4 million in revenue in Q4 alone. Alongside the news, ExOne also announced that it had developed a more rapid process of binder jetting aluminum parts in conjunction with automotive manufacturer Ford.

Earlier this year, the company also licensed a new 3D printing technique from Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), enabling it to produce lightweight metal-ceramic parts. Specifically, the patent-pending process can be used to create aluminum-infiltrated boron carbide components on ExOne machines. The deal will see ExOne leveraging the technology commercially by fabricating scientific research parts for clients.

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Featured image shows the new X1 160Pro 3D printer. Photo via ExOne.

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