ECN extends DLP technology for 3D printing to metals
PETTEN – Tests have shown that the Digital Light Processing-based technology (DLP) that the Energy research Centre of the Netherlands (ECN) and its partners have developed for the 3D printing of ceramic materials can also be made suitable for metals, providing a higher-quality alternative to existing 3D metal-shaping techniques. The advantage of this technology is that the material is constructed in a superior way, which – in contrast to existing, universally used 3D technologies – does not involve melting the metals. This will result in well-compacted, homogeneous and therefore high-grade materials.
The market is already showing a lot of interest in various metals and metal alloys that can be used under extreme conditions and in high-vacuum environments. The DLP technology offers new possibilities for high-tech sectors, in particular, because machine parts can now be produced that were not possible in the past. This can involve a multiplicity of metals and metal alloys.
Materials expertise essential to process
ECN has now demonstrated that it is feasible to use DLP technology for printing metals. “We can develop these kinds of techniques because we have expertise in building up thin layers of material and in powder metallurgical shaping,” says Jan Opschoor, researcher in Materials, Testing & Analysis at ECN. For example, the research centre has already developed a Metal Injection Moulding (MIM) process for the manufacture of high-grade tungsten and molybdenum. ECN’s expertise in materials science has proved relevant for many applications, including for the development of membranes, solar cells, hybrid materials and fuel cells.
Building up metal products in layers shown to be feasible
To date, ECN has shown that it is feasible to use DLP technology to build up metal products in layers. ECN is seeking partners in the private and public sectors to further the development of the technology and get it ready for the market. Opschoor: “We think that this technology will make a large number of new applications possible that could not be produced, or could hardly be produced, in the past.”
Previously, ECN had already supported the development of this “additive manufacturing” technology for the 3D printing of ceramic materials. This was achieved in partnership with InnoTech Europe B.V. and Formatec Ceramics. This collaboration led to the founding of the company Admatec Europe B.V. Admatec uses 3D technology to manufacture high-grade ceramic materials and parts for industrial and aesthetic applications, among other things.