Ceramic 3D printing has proven itself a viable method for producing high-quality, complex parts for a range of applications. Now, as the process and materials continue to advance, additional capabilities are being developed, creating wholly new opportunities for end users. Among these new capabilities is multi-material 3D printing.
3DCERAM, a ceramics AM leader based in Limoges, France (a historical hub for ceramic production), has not only recognized the potential of multi-material 3D printing, it has created a hybrid process capable of embedding other materials into ceramic parts. The technology in question is not being brought to market as a new machine, rather, 3DCERAM has developed an update for its existing ceramic AM platform, which increases process flexibility and reduces the cost of hybrid applications.
Hybrid ceramic 3D printing
3DCERAM’s hybrid AM process is based on the company’s existing laser stereolithography AM technology and adds a hybrid scraper tool. This device is equipped with a dispensing system, which makes it possible to integrate other materials into the ceramic part as it is built.
The hybrid 3D printing process builds the part slice by slice. First, the ceramic material is spread using the scraper and then polymerized using a UV laser (this is the regular SLA process). After this layer is polymerized, an air jet is used to remove ceramic material from the area where another material is needed. The hybrid dispensing system then fills the gap created by the air blowing with the second material. At this point, the filler material can also be polymerized using the UV laser if applicable. As more layers are formed, the process results in ceramic parts with other materials embedded within.
The hybrid capability was developed for 3DCERAM’s industrial C900 3D printer, but can also be used with the C100 system for laboratory use.
Multi-material ceramic applications
Ceramic-based multi-material 3D printing is of particular interest in the electronics industry, which can benefit from the ability to produce ceramic parts with directly embedded electronic pathways. Internet of Things (IoT) devices can also leverage multi-material additive manufacturing with ceramics to create smart sensors within everyday objects.
As 3DCERAM has demonstrated, its hybrid process is particularly well suited for electromagnetism applications. For instance, the company has successfully 3D printed an alumina part with an embedded metallic solenoid coil. The multi-material component (pictured above) has a resolution of about Ø 0.5 mm, which could be improved with the use of a higher precision dispensing system.
The hybrid AM approach also opens up new applications, such as Bitter coils, which are capable of creating extremely strong magnetic fields. Bitter solenoids are challenging to produce using conventional manufacturing processes, but AM has the ability to produce customized and optimized Bitter coil devices. These can then be used in the production of magnet wheel motors, for example, which are vital to transport electrification.
In the electronics industry, 3DCERAM’s hybrid approach has a range of applications, including rapid prototyping of ceramic PCBs, LTCCs (Low Temperature Cofiring Ceramics) or HTCCs (Hot Temperature Cofired Ceramics). The hybrid technology has several advantages compared to conventional electronic prototyping methods, including lower costs and faster lead times. Moreover, the technique’s free path capability can also increase electrification density within electronic devices, making them more efficient.
Looking at the big picture, 3DCERAM’s multi-material AM capability for ceramics marks a step towards the realization of next-generation electronic applications. The new approach unlocks faster development times for electronic applications, lower development costs and facilitates scaling up to mass production. This will prove useful as we see more demand for IoT products and embedded electronics.
This article was published in collaboration with 3DCERAM.