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The latest from 3DM and its disruptive SLS solution

Ido Eylon, CEO of 3DM, fills us in as the company prepares to launch its first QCL-based 3D printing system early next year

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There’s a good reason the name 3DM is starting to crop up more and more within the additive manufacturing industry. The young Israeli company, which was founded in 2016, has developed a new laser powder bed fusion technology that will open up new material possibilities and make the technology more accessible. We covered the company and its new solution in some depth a few months ago, and now we’re taking a look at what’s new with 3DM as it advances steadily towards the official launch of its first hardware solutions. Ido Eylon, CEO of 3DM, gives us the scoop.

3DM’s Quantum Cascade Laser

What sets 3DM apart from the competition in the world of SLS is its Quantum Cascade Laser (QCL). Developed by 3DM’s founder Daniel Majer, an expert in laser and semiconductor electro-optical technologies, the QCL is a semiconductor laser whose high-energy beams can be tuned for specific wavelengths within the mid-IR spectrum. In practice, this means that the 3D printing laser can be programmed to match the specific melting properties of virtually any thermoplastic material, which opens up vast potential for new powderized plastic materials to be printed. The laser also melts with precision and with an intensity that helps the material’s molecules bond together, resulting in parts with enhanced mechanical and isotropic properties.

The approach of developing a laser that can match the energy absorption properties of specific thermoplastics is different from most existing SLS technologies. These technologies tend to rely on less efficient lasers, which can only process a small range of materials, as well as on materials that contain additives for improving energy absorption. This added development and work can drive up the cost of both SLS technologies and consumables as well as limit the viable range of thermoplastics. QCL technology overcomes these hurdles by using a laser that melts specific materials in the most efficient way. 3DM’s QCL technology has successfully been used to print all types of SLS materials, including PAs, PPs, and TPUs, and can theoretically be used with any powderized thermoplastic material.

In addition to its variable wavelength, the Quantum Cascade Laser also brings other benefits to the table. The laser is tiny, measuring about the size of a grain of rice, and is extremely affordable. According to 3DM, each adjustable-wavelength laser costs just tens of dollars. Thanks to this, 3DM has been able to develop a beam head system that can cost-effectively fit up to six lasers that can work simultaneously for faster printing speeds. (These beamheads can themselves be combined for greater scalability.) The laser also boasts higher precision than CO2 lasers, with the capability to achieve very high resolutions.

The latest from 3DM and its disruptive SLS solution. Ido Eylon fills us in as the company prepares to launch its QCL-based 3D printing system
Each laser is diced into many laser components, after which each component is carefully checked and tested, and assembled on a cooling apparatus alongside a collimating lens and a driver. Once assembled, these components form a ‘laser module’.

Eylon sums up the key benefits of 3DM’s laser innovation: “The main advantages of the QCL technology are found within the melt efficiency of the plastic materials. This results in four main benefits: a wide gamut of possible materials, high resolution and surface finish, enhanced mechanical properties and isotropic nature, and printing speed and productivity. In addition to these benefits, the expected price point is cost-effective, and the system is an open platform, allowing manufacturers a wide range of materials possible, as well as keeping the running costs low.”

 

What’s coming up at 3DM

When we spoke to 3DM in May, the company was preparing for productization of two industrial-grade 3D printers: a compact professional system fitted with a single-laser module, and a larger machine with a four-laser configuration. The former, which will come first, will be ideal for adopters looking for smaller-scale production and a lower entry cost, while the latter is designed for industrial high-throughput applications. Ultimately, it is industrial series production that the company is most interested in.

Four different laser modules are assembled into one case, together with other optic elements that combine all the lasers into one high-quality, high-power beam – AKA the beamhead (seen in this image) that generates a melting laser spot on the powder.

Since May, Eylon tells us that 3DM has made steady progress towards releasing its first systems. He says: “We have further stabilized our beamhead and made other improvements to it, and shipped one to a strategic partner for them to test on their own equipment and at their own facility. We very much look forward to this partnership as it will be the first time 3DM’s technology will be tested at a customer site and in a production environment. In addition, we expect to gain a lot of highly valuable knowledge and information through this activity about AM production applications. We will use the insights for future products, and make them even more suitable for production applications.”

The company has also expanded its agreement with its strategic manufacturing partner for the production of its single-beam head machine. Through this latest agreement, 3DM will receive its first prototype system by early 2024. From there, Eylon adds that “we expect product introduction early next year, and due to immense market interest, we’ve started taking pre-orders with selected potential customers to secure their position in the queue.” Down the line, 3DM also plans to introduce auxiliary products to complement its laser powder bed fusion systems, including automation and post-processing equipment, as well as materials.

The latest from 3DM and its disruptive SLS solution. Ido Eylon fills us in as the company prepares to launch its QCL-based 3D printing system
Covered beamhead.

Partnering with services

Eylon reveals that 3DM has no ambitions to become a parts producer. Rather, the company will operate primarily as an AM hardware supplier, though it also sees itself as an application development consultant in the sense that it will work closely with customers and end users to develop materials and applications for its laser powder bed fusion platform.

For services looking to eventually integrate 3DM’s solution into their production portfolios, Eylon suggests joining the company’s strategic partnership program and making a pre-order for its single-beamhead machine. “As the number of units for the first production batch is limited, and since we experience high demand for these units, we encourage manufacturers that want to stay at the forefront of technology to collaborate with us, enter the strategic partnership program, learn the potential benefits for their specific case, and place an order to secure their unit for next year,” he says.

The latest from 3DM and its disruptive SLS solution. Ido Eylon fills us in as the company prepares to launch its QCL-based 3D printing system

Since coming out of stealth mode earlier this year, 3DM and its unique offering have already generated interest from a number of industries, including consumer goods, medical, automotive, and defense. AM services have also shown a keen interest, undoubtedly attracted by the company’s promise of not only a greater material range, but also higher quality parts, faster production speeds and more cost-effective 3D printing. The company’s focus on high-throughput production—with volumes into the hundreds of thousands of parts—is also key to its market positioning.

3DM is already collaborating with a number of end users to develop applications, materials and fine-tune its 3D printing technology. “We work constantly with end users and value their feedback,” Eylon explains. “We plan to implement changes that are related mostly to the output quality, then to user experience. The goal is to make AM production systems, and the challenge is big yet exciting.”

In terms of applications, the company is reportedly most eager to explore use cases that require a specific material in order to take advantage of the QCL system’s tunable wavelengths. Eylon says: “The most exciting opportunities are those with end users that have a need for a specific polymer to allow their specific application. We have a few examples that are confidential, and are always on the look for more.”

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Tess Boissonneault

Tess Boissonneault is a Montreal-based content writer and editor with five years of experience covering the additive manufacturing world. She has a particular interest in amplifying the voices of women working within the industry and is an avid follower of the ever-evolving AM sector. Tess holds a master's degree in Media Studies from the University of Amsterdam.

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