ExOne, a pioneer of binder jet 3D printing technologies, is introducing the tenth member of its metal 3D printer family: the X1 160PRO. The 3D printer, which builds on the company’s 20 years of experience in the binder jetting arena, is ExOne’s largest metal 3D printer to date and can deliver high throughput production.
Over the years, ExOne has introduced a range of 3D printer hardware systems for metal binder jetting. The company’s newest system—described as bigger, smarter and faster—addresses much of the feedback that ExOne has received over the years from its customers and partners in the aerospace, automotive and defense sectors.
The primary thing that stands out about the 3D printer is, of course, its size. With build dimensions of 800 x 500 x 400 mm and a total build volume of 160 liters, the X1 160PRO can produce large scale parts, including investment cast parts for the automotive, aerospace and defense industries. The 3D printer can also achieve impressive build rates of up to 10,000 cm3/hour (depending on the material), allowing users to achieve high volume production.
One of the key drivers behind the new 3D printer is ExOne’s Triple Advanced Compaction Technology (ACT), a novel system that dispenses, spreads and compacts powder to ensure it is evenly and consistently distributed. This, in turn, results in repeatable, high quality parts with consistent densities.
As John Hartner, CEO of ExOne, told us: “We’ve been working on binder jetting for a long time and one of the things that we’ve recognized is the quality of single alloy powders is dependent on how well you can spread them and get consistent compaction and density. Our Triple ACT system has a way to dispense, spread and compact the powders so that they are extremely consistent along the build bed. This allows users to get high predictability, less shrinkage and better densities.
“We recently got the patent granted on the Triple ACT system and we are implementing it across the whole product family. This means you can start on a smaller machine, move to a mid-sized early production machine and then scale to the X1 160PRO and maintain the same level of consistency and predictability. Our customers love that.”
Open materials system
The new X1 160PRO 3D printer also integrates an open material system, meaning it can be used with a variety of metal and ceramic powders. Presently, there are six metal powders which have been qualified for the 3D printer, including stainless steels 316L, 304L and 17-4PH, as well as some ceramics. ExOne is also continually working to qualify more materials.
“We have a lot more than six metals, but that is how many that have been qualified,” said Hartner, who joined ExOne in late 2018 and was appointed CEO in May 2019. “Customers can also bring us proprietary materials and we work through a process development to ensure consistent production with binder jetting.
“We also have relationships with folks at Sandvik and Kennametal. We just announced another partnership with Global Tungsten & Powders. We’re also working on Inconels and have some development projects with customers on future materials that are lightweight, such as aluminum. These are traditionally viewed as reactive metals, so we’re working on approaches that will allow those materials to be printed with binder jetting.”
As Hartner emphasized, the X1 160PRO is “big, fast and smart.” Addressing the last characteristic, he explained that the new 3D printer integrates a number of Industry 4.0 technologies that enable new or improved capabilities. For instance, the metal 3D printer has 4.0 cloud connectivity and process-linking capabilities, both of which are enabled by Siemens’ MindSphere, an open cloud-based IoT operating system.
ExOne also leveraged MindSphere technology for its recent S-MAX Pro sand 3D printer. “In June, we introduced a new sand machine which integrates a system that provides the capability to follow the machine’s use and operations from the cloud,” Hartner said. “That same technology is going to be deployed here. Our customers are very excited about the ability to have multiple machines in production and, at the same time, ensure quality, scheduling and a seamless digital manufacturing thread.”
The future of binder jetting
ExOne has been on the scene for a long time (relative to the AM industry). In fact, it launched the first commercial metal binder jet system, the RTS-300, in 1998. Since then, the company has introduced a number of binder jetting systems, both for sand and metal materials.
Interestingly, in recent years, the prospects of binder jetting have grown substantially and many see it as one of the key technologies for driving industrial AM adoption.
“I think the industry knows that binder jetting is the right direction for scalable metal production,” Hartner told us. “I would say that there’s been a renewed interest in binder jetting. We’ve been in it for over 20 years and all of a sudden there are a number of people who believe that this is the way to go forward. I want to say, we have production machines ready now. These machines are big, fast and smart and they’re open, so customers can work with whatever powder they want. It’s a really exciting time in our industry and in our technology.”
ExOne is expecting to begin shipping its new metal binder jetting printer in late 2020. The technology will also be available through its ExOne Adoption Centers (EACs) located in the U.S., Japan and Germany.