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Ceramics 3D printing gets red hot at Ceramitec 2024

The leading global trade fair for the advanced ceramics industry set its sights on AM as a key growth area

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Ceramitec, the Munich-based largest global trade fair for the advanced ceramics industry, began welcoming ceramic additive manufacturing companies – mostly hardware manufacturers – as exhibitors and presenters about a decade ago, as ceramics additive manufacturing technologies began to have a commercial outlet. Ceramitec 2024 edition represents the culmination of this effort and also the starting point of a bright future. Ceramics AM is hotter than ever, with silicon carbide applications, in particular, leading the next gen of advanced ceramic 3D printing.

Ceramitec showcases additive manufacturing processes, materials, 3D printers, applications and the latest developments by research organizations in the field of ceramics additive manufacturing. At Ceramitec 2024, this took place both in Hall 6, which was largely dedicated to AM companies, and in Hall 5, where some large ceramic material suppliers and traditional ceramic companies showed off their latest work in AM. Visitors were able to see 3D printed ceramic parts, which are revolutionizing industries, in a host of applications. Manufacturers, users, and scientists reported from practice and research on how they conduct ceramic printing for highly complex applications to industrial series production.

Thinking big in SiC

Let’s start our review with some of the most noticeable among the latest developments seen at Ceramitec 2024. Many – but by no means all – are related to silicon carbide. What was particularly noticeable about silicon carbide 3D printing was the size of the silicon carbide parts seen at the show and thus the upsurge in material demand. We have described and predicted this trend in great detail in VoxelMatters’ latest Technical Ceramics AM market reports and in all our market research for several years, but seeing it in person come into full actualization was impressive.

Ceramics 3D printing gets red hot at Ceramitec 2024 as the leading global trade fair for the advanced ceramics industry sets its sights on AM

With the IntrinSiC business line, Schunk is leading the market leader in silicon carbide parts manufacturing. These are mostly silicon-infiltrated silicon carbide (SiSiC) parts made by large format binder jetting – not pure sintered SiC – but the applications are significant both in the semiconductor manufacturing industry and in high-heat-resistant parts for thermal processes. Schunk was among the first large companies to build a silicon carbide binder jetting business, more or less at the same time as competitor SGL. Their success clearly shows the difference that mentality makes, especially in AM. Schunk believed firmly in this venture and invested significantly to build it while SGL never showed much conviction. Now Schunk is reaping the benefits of a hugely profitable new market segment while SGL had to pull out, wasting whatever little investment it made. Dustin Kersberg, of Schunk Technical Ceramics, told us that the very large parts on display at Ceramitec are just a small sample of what they can do, with the ability to design and print SiSiC components that are as long as 4 meters.

To prove that silicon carbide is no fad, many other companies are now targeting this business, which is growing faster than any other AM segment. ExOne (part of Desktop Metal) – which provides the binder jetting systems for most companies making SiSiC parts industrially – also provides services for silicon carbide parts, along with many other materials (including salt). Anong other things, ExOne’s Development Engineer David Wonn showed us smaller and fully dense SiC parts that were not infiltrated as they were produced by FAST/SPS, a state-of-the-art spark plasma sintering technology developed by Norimat (and also offered by German company FCT).

And it’s not the only binder jetting company to do so.

The Dutch startup Concr3de, working with ceramic AM material and service specialist WZR, has introduced silicon carbide 3D printing along with many other materials (including custom ones like wood and refractory cement). Both ExOne and Concr3de (and voxeljet – which was not present at the show, as the company deals with a delicate transition from a public to a private company) have developed or are developing large-size capabilities. Schunk confirmed that they are making parts for the semiconductor manufacturing industry that can measure 4 meters in length.

This huge uptick in material demand is driving silicon carbide manufacturers to develop and market powder grades specifically to cater to AM requirements. This includes players that VoxelMatters already identified early on, such as Washington Mills, ESK-SIC, Saint Gobain and a new-entry Chinese company called Sanzer New Materials.

As shown in the last three pictures on the right of the photo gallery above, Saint Gobain and Sanzer are also producing parts. The first has found an ideal market in the production of efficient high-temperature resistant burner components (SPYROCOR, HEATCOR and NOXBUSTER) for large furnace systems, under the Amasic brand. These are some of the biggest final parts seen in all of 3D printing. Sanzer also produces SiSiC parts and said the company’s Business Director Bernard Wu said they “consume up to 500 tons of silicon carbide yearly, using a locally-made binder large jetting system.”

But it doesn’t stop here for silicon carbide. D3-AM and Tritone, two interesting companies that developed advanced high-productivity AM processes, displayed pure SiC parts, sintered to full density, without requiring silicon infiltration. D3-AM, a spinoff of the Durst Group, presented SiC parts made with its advanced Micro-Particle Jetting technology (a type of material jetting). Tritone did the same with its high-productivity DOMINANT system based on the unique MoldJet process (a mix between material deposition and material jetting). There are also other technologies to produce SiC parts, mainly using paste extrusion processes, such as the M.A.T. system from 3DCeram-Tiwari, which now also supports direct pellet feedstock printing or  Nanoe’s Zetamix bound ceramic filament materials, which can be used on most filament extrusion systems.

Ceramic AM leaders target production

Even as SiC binder jetting (and material jetting) is taking off (and catching up fast), the market leaders in technical ceramics remain Lithoz and 3DCeram, the vat photopolymerization (VPP) technology companies that first introduced 3D printing of technical ceramics well over a decade ago. They now have a few more competitors in the hardware business (mainly APAC-based companies) – which is healthy – but none that are as technologically advanced. It is interesting to note that Lithoz and 3DCeram represent the leadership in each of the two primary approaches to stereolithographic ceramic 3D printing using slurries: laser- and DLP-based. Their technology affects how each company targets higher productivity.

At Ceramitec 2024, Lithoz introduced the CeraControl software, driving ceramic additive manufacturing to a new dimension of serial production via the “Ceramic 3D Factory”. The system enables and facilitates the networked use of multiple CeraFab S65 systems. As demonstrated at the Lithoz booth, a 3D Factory with sufficient units installed could produce as many as 13.9 million aerospike nozzles with a 12 mm diameter per year. This would require 100 machines installed but it is far from impossible.

Ceramics 3D printing gets red hot at Ceramitec 2024 as the leading global trade fair for the advanced ceramics industry sets its sights on AM
A display of Lithoz’ productivity potential.

Other configurations with fewer machines and larger parts would still result in hundreds of thousands and millions of complex advanced ceramic parts produced cost-effectively. “The idea is that any number of Lithoz machines can be used, even remotely, to rapidly more produce parts, said Head of Marketing Norbert Gall. “uniting Lithoz technology and contract manufacturers all over the world in one global network for interconnected serial production, via the CeraControl software.”

By using lasers instead of projected light, 3DCeram’s largest systems can have bigger build volumes. This means that fewer machines are needed for serial production compared to Lithoz however, due to the massive quantities of materials involved, every print must be completed, with part quality and repeatability assured. To enable its customers to do this with every print job, 3DCeram introduced the CERIA Set AI-based software at Ceramitec 2024. This AI-enabled app contains all the instructions based on 3DCeram’s twenty years of experience in ceramic 3D printing, for rapid technology transfer to its users.

Ceramics 3D printing gets red hot at Ceramitec 2024 as the leading global trade fair for the advanced ceramics industry sets its sights on AM
3DCeram’s high productivity is shown in the photos above and some beautiful one-off parts below.

“As we navigate the complexities of large-scale industrial production, the importance of innovative solutions like CERIA Set cannot be overstated,” said 3DCeram’s Kareen Malsallez. “Our AI not only streamlines manufacturing processes but also significantly enhances efficiency, across the board.” What CERIA Set does is help to streamline the printing preparation process, implement better design rules and prevent errors. Used on production systems such as the C3601 ULTIMATE, C1000 FLEXMATIC, and C101 EASY FAB, this results in fuller build plates that accelerate and improve productivity.

We did mention competition. While some known players in this space like AON and Adamtec (part of Nano Dimension, also going through a traditional phase) were not present at Ceramitec 2024, two other companies emerged showing new DLP and laser-based ceramic AM systems. One is Japan-based SK FINE, which was founded in 2018 as a division of the large machinery maker SHASHIN KAGAKU.

Ceramics 3D printing gets red hot at Ceramitec 2024 as the leading global trade fair for the advanced ceramics industry sets its sights on AM
The ceramic SLA 3D printer from SK FINE

Now ready to enter Western markets, SK FINE proposes three systems: two smaller ones based on SLA (laser VPP) and one larger for production based on DLP. This, the SZ-6000, has a build volume of 660 × 600 × H300 mm and achieved ten times faster exposure time than the laser-based models through the adoption of a DLP multiscan method. The other new hardware company at Ceramitec 2024, South Korea-based 3DControls, presented a smaller DLP system (120 × 68 × 45 mm) the TD6, for smaller high-precision applications in alumina and zirconia.

Making many ceramic parts

We already discussed the variety and quantity of large parts made using silicon carbide. However, the more traditional ceramic AM materials, alumina and zirconia, are also being used for more and larger applications. Ceramitec 2024 saw the participation of various ceramic AM adopters and service providers who showed off their capabilities. In a market segment that has been built from the ground up by pioneers such as WZR (using Lithoz and Concr3de systems), Steinbach (using multiple Lithoz systems), Cerhum (using 3DCeram systems) and Bosch Advanced Ceramics (using both Lithoz and 3DCeram systems but not present as an exhibitor at this edition), a few more companies emerged showing interesting new products and applications that will contribute to expand the ceramic AM market.

Swiss company Ceramaret has been investing significantly to expand its ceramic 3D printing capabilities both using DLP technology and recently introducing material jetting technology (nanoparticle jetting) from XJet. The company showed off several printed parts including a series of stunning intertwined watch bands, directly 3D printed in ceramic. Alumina Systems, a user of both Lithoz and 3DCeram technology, went further, showing a wide variety of semiconductor manufacturing applications. In particular Dr. Steffen Welter showed a highly complex tool, a ring used in the atomic layer deposition (ALD) process for semiconductor manufacturing, where a gas mixes with plasma, in hot and corrosive conditions that only advanced ceramics can withstand over long periods, to “extract” and deposit the atom-thin layers on a wafer.

Ceramics 3D printing gets red hot at Ceramitec 2024 as the leading global trade fair for the advanced ceramics industry sets its sights on AM

Ceramics 3D printing gets red hot at Ceramitec 2024 as the leading global trade fair for the advanced ceramics industry sets its sights on AM Other large ceramic manufacturing companies are now starting to explore ceramic 3D printing and are at various stages of the R&D process. Indian company CUMI invested in a smaller 3DCeram system to begin assessing the process while Indo MIM, already an adopter of metal binder jetting, is researching extrusion 3D printed ceramic parts.

This process of adoption is now clearly underway.

Saint Gobain’s Zirpro division confirmed they are starting to see more demand for their zirconia materials for additive manufacturing applications while material mixing specialists like German company EIRICH displayed several 3D printed parts made with materials it contributed to produce. Even in the traditional ceramic (clay) segment, giants like Imerys and large specialist companies like Ceramica Collet reported continued demand for their 3D printing-specific pre-mixed clay material products. And Nabertherm, a giant in furnaces for sintering, offers a huge lineup of AM-specific furnaces and chose Ceramitec 2024 to introduce its latest one.

At Ceramitec 2024 there was room for some impressive traditional ceramic 3D printing production capabilities as well. Companies like 3D Minerals and Lehmhuus 3D Ceramics, along with research organizations like Energie Campus Nurberg, showed end-use products made with different types of clay and other traditional ceramic products.

Nanoe also proposes traditional ceramic 3D printing with bound thermoplastic filament extrusion technology. All these initiatives demonstrate that traditional ceramics can be ideal and cost-effective materials for end-use parts, even for larger production runs. Most of the parts we saw were made using either 3D Potterbot systems or robotic deposition hardware.

Others, like German company OECHSLER, also a large provider of 3D printing services in the polymer parts segment, has so far discarded the possibility of introducing ceramic AM capabilities to its existing ceramic part mass production business. The kinds of quantities and the types of parts that these large companies produce are still beyond reach but the time will come to further diversify their offer.

Ceramics 3D printing gets red hot at Ceramitec 2024 as the leading global trade fair for the advanced ceramics industry sets its sights on AM

New ceramic AM technologies and research

Besides improving the productivity of existing technologies, another way that the ceramic AM market will open up to new and larger adopters will be through the introduction of new additive technologies that are able to cater to specific industry requirements. German company Exentis is a perfect example. Its production-ready screen printing technology enables cost-effective manufacturing of millions of precise and intricate parts across a wide range of materials, including advanced ceramics. It has limitations, given by the nature of the process that is based on the “screen” shape and thus limits part geometry to some extent. However many ceramic applications will benefit from the screen printing approach.

Another technology that will open up opportunities is material jetting. We saw it earlier when we discussed D3-AM’s silicon nitride 3D printing capabilities and Ceramaret’s use of XJet’s technology for alumina. But it looked like we just started scratching the surface of possibilities as D3-AM’s CEO Stefan Waldner showed us an alumina part with enclosed internal channels, something that cannot be achieved with vat-based ceramic processes.

Also using a type of material jetting, with up to six larger nozzles in a printhead for multiple materials, AMAREA showed several interesting applications including integrated co-sintered electronics. Using a Low-Temperature Co-fired Ceramic with conductive silver at temperatures up to a max of 350°C. “Beyond that,” said CTO Rober Johne, “and up to approx. 1500°C, Silicon Nitride composites with different contents of Molybdenum Disilicide can be used by AMAREA Technology’s Multi Material Jetting-based AM Systems as an insulator+conductor pairing to realize functions such as integrated resistive heaters in a component.”

And the research continues both at an institutional and commercial level. French organization CTTC (the Center for Technology Transfer in Ceramics), and German organization FGK (Forschungsinstitut fur Glas – Keramik) presented numerous material and process innovations. Among the most notable, a complex part made from polymer-derived ceramics by CTTC, “mainly as a fun experiment”, as explained by Managing Director Olivier Durand, while the German organization FGK showed the latest in the project undertaken with Lithoz on co-sintered integrated electronic parts.

Any way you look at it, electronics and ceramics were a hot match at Ceramitec 2024.

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Davide Sher

Since 2002, Davide has built up extensive experience as a technology journalist, market analyst and consultant for the additive manufacturing industry. Born in Milan, Italy, he spent 12 years in the United States, where he completed his studies at SUNY USB. As a journalist covering the tech and videogame industry for over 10 years, he began covering the AM industry in 2013, first as an international journalist and subsequently as a market analyst, focusing on the additive manufacturing industry and relative vertical markets. In 2016 he co-founded London-based VoxelMatters. Today the company publishes the leading news and insights websites VoxelMatters.com and Replicatore.it, as well as VoxelMatters Directory, the largest global directory of companies in the additive manufacturing industry.

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