3D Printers

INTERVIEW: ExOne launches high volume X1 160PRO metal 3D printer

Leading binder jet 3D printer manufacturer ExOne has launched the X1 160PRO. The largest machine from the company to date, the system has been developed for high volume, or large scale, production of end-use parts and castings. It is the product of more than two decades of expertise in the 3D printing industry from the company, and has been created to fulfill customer demand.

Announced to the public this week, John Hartner, ExOne’s CEO, tells 3D Printing Industry that the company already has customers budgeting for the acquisition of the X1 160PRO when it becomes available next year. In this interview, we learn more about the system’s unique features, specifically the Triple ACT system tackling one of the biggest challenges in metal additive manufacturing.

“There’s a lot of renewed interest in this space [binder jetting] because of the ability to take metal parts to production with faster, more scaleable solutions,” states Hartner.

“That’s where we’re taking all of our experience and we’ve moved it from smaller machines, to mid-sized machines, and now to a much higher volume production machine incorporating higher throughput, and the ability to have larger parts as well.”

X1 160PRO technical specifications

The X1 160PRO is a metal and ceramic 3D printer with a build envelope measuring 800 x 500 x 400 mm, or 160 liters in volume. An open material system, operators are free to use any powdered alloy in the machine. Nevertheless, the 160PRO is compatible with six materials currently certified for use with ExOne’s other 3D printers, including stainless steels 316L, 304L and 17-4PH. Depending on the material used and production part geometry, the machine is capable of attaining a print speed up to 10,000 cm³/hour.

The X1 160PRO metal 3D printer. Image via ExOne
The X1 160PRO metal 3D printer. Image via ExOne

To give an idea of the throughput this machine is capable of, Hartner estimates that it can produce anything from ten thousand larger parts per year, up to the hundreds of thousands of smaller parts per year, dependent on the number required, part size and complexity. ”

The key development enabling part conformity across such volumes is ExOne’s Triple Advanced Compaction Technology (Triple ACT).

Triple Advanced Compaction Technology

Used in prior ExOne systems, the Triple ACT system is a patented, three step process relating to dispensing, spreading and compacting powdered materials within the build chamber. Described as “one of the biggest challenges of binder jetting metal powders” by ExOne, these tasks are designed to be homogeneously carried-out by the Triple ACT with powders of an average particle size of 9μm.

The first part of the Triple ACT system is a specially designed ultrasonic hopper, that vibrates to release a highly controlled dose of powder to the print bed. This ensures that powder is distributed evenly where needed. The second and third part of the process splits one existing step into two. Instead of spreading and compacting with the same roller, ExOne has designed one roller, with knurls, for spreading powder, and a second, knurl-free, roller for compacting. “The ability to do that consistently and at a rapid speed,” Hartner adds, “are what gets us both the quality and throughput.” By implementing this three-step system, ExOne ensures a part density variability of 0.3% across the entire build area of the X1 160PRO. 

The X1 160PRO metal 3D printer has a build area measuring 800 x 500 x 400 mm. Image via ExOne
The X1 160PRO metal 3D printer has a build area measuring 800 x 500 x 400 mm. Image via ExOne

In addition to Triple ACT the 160PRO system is also, Hartner emphasizes, “smart” in terms of connectivity. In collaboration with Siemens, the 160PRO has in-built integration with the Mindsphere operating system. “Almost any sensor within the machine is going to be visible through Minsphere to ensure that these production machines are network-able, and visible through the cloud,” Hartner explains. This means that users can conduct detailed analytics of production and apply effective factory management.

Automated unloading and loading of builds is also integrated within the 160PRO, facilitating high-volume production as part of a wider automated facility.

An automated unloading and loading unit at the front of the system facilitates high-volume production as part of a wider automated facility. Photo via ExOne
An automated unloading and loading unit at the front of the system facilitates high-volume production as part of a wider automated facility. Photo via ExOne

Part of the roadmap

Exhibiting 19 – 22nd November, ExOne will be presenting further information about its Triple ACT technology and the X1 160PRO at Formnext 2019. The company will also be showing the X1 250PRO, the mid-sized little brother of the 160PRO, for the first time in Europe at this year’s show. The company can be visited in Frankfurt on the dates mentioned at hall 12.0, booth C21.

“Customers have these roadmaps where they’re driving the cost of production down, and that’s really where we get a belief in binder jet metal printing,” concludes Hartner, “They are coming to us when they’re scaling up to deploy the X1 160PRO in the future.”

The X1 160PRO is currently scheduled to ship late 2020.

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Featured image shows the X1 160PRO metal 3D printer. Image via ExOne

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