Metal Binder Jetting (MBJ) technology is reshaping the landscape of 3D printing, with significant implications for metal manufacturing. This innovative approach involves layering metal powders with a liquid binder to create complex and robust objects.
In this interview with Cai DaoSheng, EASYMFG Chairman, he provides insights into the essential aspects of MBJ and strategic initiatives for 2024.
In his previous interview, the Chairman emphasized collaboration among MBJ teams and the need for large-scale manufacturing demonstrations to boost industrial confidence. Additionally, he spoke about EASYMFG’s expansion plans for 2024, its product line, and advised on thoughtful build box design.
“We approach 2024 with confidence, recognizing both the opportunities and challenges it presents. Binder Jetting Metal 3D printing technology is poised to continue leading the digital transformation of manufacturing. Industry practitioners need to closely monitor market changes and adapt their strategies flexibly to ensure competitiveness in this dynamic field,” said DaoSheng.
The critical role of powder materials
DaoSheng explained the powder material choice is pivotal in determining the final performance, cost, and overall success of the printing process in MBJ technology. While MBJ equipment manufacturers excel in mechanical, software, and process development, the progress of MBJ is hampered by a crucial missing piece: specialized powders. While options exist, they come with significant drawbacks.
For instance, conventional Metal Injection Molding (MIM) powders, often used as a substitute, offer poor flowability, hindering printing density and overall performance. On the other hand, gas-atomized powders offering better flow are expensive and prone to deformation during high-temperature sintering.
“As a result, EASYMFG plans to collaborate with powder suppliers to launch specialized MBJ powders in 2024. These powders will primarily include stainless steel, high-temperature alloys, and titanium alloys. Such powders will exhibit suitable flowability and higher tap density,” added DaoSheng.
Redefining binders for enhanced efficiency
DaoSheng believes binders play a critical role in MBJ technology, requiring low sintering residue, high bonding strength, stable printing, and resistance to printhead clogging. According to him, the unique challenges of MBJ technology, like heating during printing, present binder innovation opportunities.
“Currently, the commercialized binders developed by EASYMFG typically exhibit a three-directional permeation control of within 0.05mm (equivalent to twice the spacing at 1200 DPI resolution). This is also the reason why parts printed with MBJ technology generally excel in Z-axis precision and higher surface quality compared to [Selective Laser Melting] SLM technology. The greater laser penetration depth in SLM technology leads to poorer accuracy in the Z-axis and lower surface quality for the parts,” explained the Chairman.
EASYMFG’s binders undergo a low-temperature (approximately 150°C) curing process after printing, preventing dissolution upon exposure to solvent. The company plans to eliminate the heating-curing process, developing a novel binder set for a 2024 release, promising enhanced efficiency and cost reduction. Unlike other MBJ manufacturers’ binders requiring low-temperature heating curing, EASYMFG’s focus on room-temperature printing and binder development without heating curing underscores its commitment to streamline production.
Technological upgrades in Metal Binder Jetting
DaoSheng said, “The EASYMFG team has over a decade of R&D experience in this field, extensively testing printhead from various brands and models such as Epson, Seiko, Ricoh, Xaar, Kyocera, etc.” EASYMFG has also engaged in independent and collaborative R&D with the Rapid Manufacturing Center of Huazhong University of Science and Technology. This resulting device contains a closed-loop system covering all MBJ facets. EASYMFG’s technological upgrades encompass powder design, sintering theory, and diverse material system development.
Regarding powder spreading, major MBJ manufacturers like Markforged (Digit Metal) and Desktop Metal (ExOne) commonly utilize the up-powder spreading method in production, each with unique approaches. EASYMFG, in its models, employs proprietary sieving and up-powder spreading, enhancing density by 5-10%. In 2024, the focus on optimizing powder spreading will mainly target improved compatibility and reduced dust.
Global market dynamics and challenges
DaoSheng acknowledged the differences in the acceptance of MBJ technology globally. While developed countries exhibit a higher understanding and acceptance of the mass production capabilities and cost advantages of MBJ technology, China faces challenges due to the strong dominance of SLM technology in certain sectors.
The Chairman clarified misconceptions in China where companies like Apple and Huawei chose SLM technology for titanium alloy electronics, falsely implying that MBJ is inferior to SLM. In reality, Apple chose MBJ over SLM to manufacture its stainless steel watch case. DaoSheng highlighted a production-grade MBJ device can print nearly 2000 pieces per day, offering comparable speed and cost as compared to MIM, eliminating the need for molds.
“We hope that the leading MBJ pioneers facing delisting risks can successfully overcome their challenges and collaborate with other MBJ manufacturers like HP and GE to expand applications,” said DaoSheng.
EASYMFG’s going global strategy
DaoSheng outlined EASYMFG’s plan to launch cost-controlled titanium alloy products at about 2 RMB per gram, emphasizing 98% density for high-gloss components. Data indicates components can attain full density with hot isostatic pressing for extreme density applications, surpassing forgings. The company is targeting rapid batch production expansion across industries, including stainless steel, tool steel, ceramics, and more, aligning with its 2024 strategic goals.
“In 2024 we will adhere to the ‘going global’ strategy. In addition to establishing subsidiaries or offices in the domestic Yangtze River Delta and Pearl River Delta regions, we will actively promote the international presence of EASYMFG products. At the 2024 Formnext exhibition in Germany, we will undoubtedly showcase our latest equipment. Progress is anticipated in various regions and countries, including Europe, Southeast Asia, and India,” concluded DaoSheng.
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Featured image shows 3D printed parts using MBJ technology. Photo via EASYMFG.