Lithoz’s CeraFab Multi 2M30 and the future of multi-material 3D printing

Lithoz, the leading developer of industrial ceramic 3D printers, has looked to shape the future of multi-material 3D printing with its CeraFab Multi 2M30 system since its launch back in 2020.

Operating on the firm’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 budding field of functionally-graded structures. This unique direction taken by Lithoz paves the way for the development of novel applications in aerospace, electronics, energy, healthcare, and more. The machine can even be used as an open system for customers to develop their very own materials.

A gear 3D printed using zirconia-toughened alumina and alumina. Each zone has different strength properties. Photo via Lithoz.
A gear 3D printed using zirconia-toughened alumina and alumina. Each zone has different strength properties. Photo via Lithoz.

Beyond multi-material 3D printing

Beyond simply enabling 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 gradual changes in a build’s composition and microstructure. In essence, one section of a part can be printed with one material and another section with another material. Two materials can even be combined within single layers, leading to components with varying combinations of mechanical and functional properties.

So what kinds of properties are possible? Owing to Lithoz’s extensive material ecosystem, parts can be designed to be both porous and dense, bioresorbable and bioinert, hard and ductile, conductive and insulative (with both heat and electricity), magnetic and non-magnetic, transparent and opaque, and also multi-colored.

For instance, an automotive component may be required to withstand a tensile load on one end and a compressive load on the other end. A part like this would be subjected to different forces depending on the load zone, 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 assembled, the 2M30 can simply print the two ends in different materials best suited to their roles.

Another prime contender is the electronics industry, where conductive/non-conductive builds 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 casing using a non-conductive ceramic material, consolidating the assembly into one monolithic part without losing any functionality. Dielectric materials can also be stacked on top of each other with printed circuitry inscribed on top or even inside the component, resulting in dense 3D circuits.

One company that has already realized the enormous potential of the machine is Compound Semiconductor Applications (CSA) 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 is operational later this year.

“The CeraFab Multi 2M30 3D printer, part of the DER Investment in state-of-the-art equipment, is a valuable addition to our advanced semiconductor integration and packaging capability,” explains Dr. Jayakrishnan Chandrappan, Head of Packaging at CSA Catapult. “This acquisition will help us develop novel 3D printed multi-material parts for high-power and high-frequency microelectronics packages, and the multi-material printing facilities will drive energy-efficient, compact and affordable packaging.”

The research carried out by CSA Catapult will help develop new applications for 3D printing which were previously unachievable, as shown by researchers at the University of Leoben who, together with Lithoz, managed to utilize the 2M30’s power to manufacture the strongest 3D printed alumina ever.

Copper and an alumina-based glass ceramic 3D printed on the Multi 2M30. Photo via Lithoz.
Copper and an alumina-based glass ceramic 3D printed on the Multi 2M30. Photo via Lithoz.

CeraFab Multi 2M30: how does it work?

The company’s LCM process, which is seen by some as the industry standard in ceramic AM, is a variation of vat photopolymerization. A build platform is lowered into a vat of ceramic-loaded liquid, otherwise known as the slurry, and is selectively exposed to light from below via a digital micromirror device (DMD), which cures the cross-section of the first layer of the build. This process is repeated, layer by layer, until the 3D part is printed. Components must also be sintered after printing.

Unlike the firm’s other 3D printers, the CeraFab Multi 2M30 is special in that it features two vats rather than just one, allowing for two materials per build with a simple switching mechanism. The system even comes with a fully automated cleaning step to avoid 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 thereof for maximum design freedom.

The build chamber of the 2M30. Photo via Lithoz.
The build chamber of the 2M30. Photo via Lithoz.

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Featured image shows a gear 3D printed using zirconia-toughened alumina and alumina. Each zone has different strength properties. Photo via Lithoz.