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FGK extends partnership with AIM3D on ceramic AM research

The Forschungsinstitut für Glas/Keramik at the Koblenz University of Applied Science will be studying new CEM applications on an ExAM 255 system

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The 3D printing process is becoming increasingly important for glass and ceramics and now complements conventional, mold-based casting processes or even milling. Since 2021, FGK (Forschungsinstitut für Glas/Keramik) in Hoehr-Grenzhausen has been using an ExAM 255 CEM 3D printing system from extrusion specialist AIM3D for research purposes. The AM process offers major advantages with respect to time and costs when it comes to evaluating ceramic test specimens. It also enables more material combinations than standard manufacturing strategies. The focus lies on technical ceramics, but also on medical applications.

The CEM process, as an approach to 3D printing, builds on the more conventional CIM process (ceramic injection molding). The tool-free construction of components saves a considerable amount of time and significantly reduces costs. Having already proven this for prototyping, it is also particularly important in the production of test specimens for material testing – new ceramic materials can thus be evaluated more quickly.

New compositions of ceramic granulates can also be developed faster. Furthermore, CEM technology allows FGK to be more independent as no molds and capacities for test specimens need to be acquired. FGK is thus self-sufficient through 3D printing.

Ceramic multi-component technology

Project engineer Murat Demirtas explained: “The real charm of this CEM process from AIM3D is its flexibility. The ExAM 255 multi-material printer allows combinations of ceramic/ceramic, ceramic/polymers or ceramic/metal. Hybrid components massively expand the component properties, enabling a functional design.”

Specifically, this means that a combination of different ceramics, or a combination of other material classes, can be used in a single component in order to reproduce certain properties in a component. It is also possible to create parts by starting with a voluminous base produced via the CIM process and then adding a smaller printed component using the CEM process.

FGK extends partnership with AIM3D on ceramic AM research studying new CEM applications on an ExAM 255 system
Murat Demirtas, project engineer at FGK in the laboratory during the evaluation of test specimens.

The combination of ceramics for electrical insulation and metal for conductivity is also interesting. This allows for MID (Multi Integrated Devices) approaches. Obviously, the performance characteristics of a component can also be increased. Possible parameters are variable grain sizes, and certain surface characteristics, but also certain chemical (media resistance), electrical (conductivity factor), or thermal (temperature resistance) properties. 3D printing using the CEM process opens up a variety of possibilities thanks to hybrid material and hybrid manufacturing solutions.

FGK extends partnership with AIM3D on ceramic AM research studying new CEM applications on an ExAM 255 system
Selection of Al2O3 (Aluminium oxide) components printed on the ExAM 255

Designing a ceramic component via FEA

The design of a 3D component is already part of the digital process chain. The original geometry of a 3D component is optimized in an iterative process using finite element analysis (FEA) and successively simulating the stress zones within the component. Furthermore, taking into account the shrinkage of the ceramic due to thermal process control results in additional adaptations of the 3D component.

The topology is particularly important, as it is possible to use lattice structures that save weight while still ensuring the required strength. Murat Demirtas: “The tools of finite element analysis make it possible to design a component in such a manner that it specifically fits to the desired application. For this, aspects of bionics, topology, material savings and performance characteristics are combined.”

Advantages of 3D printing for technical ceramics

AIM3D’s CEM process uses conventional granulates or powders which are highly cost-efficient compared to filaments. For the feedstock, the total costs can be reduced by up to a factor of 10. In addition, bionic structures with different densities are possible and the reduction of stresses in the component also opens up advantages compared to a conventional CIM process.

The parts can now be lighter and require the use of less material. The reduced resource consumption, compared to milling or casting, is a clear advantage of a 3D printing strategy. Furthermore, 3D printing enables geometries that cannot be produced with conventional manufacturing processes, such as special undercuts or bionic designs.

Another significant advantage is the “one-shot technology” apporach: a component is built up successively without any need for assembly, even when certain functionalities are integrated. A conventional component can thus be constructively and functionally optimized with 3D printing through reengineering. The research conducted at FGK naturally covers a wide range of topics: from materials research, over topology optimization with the aim of reducing stresses in the component to functional enhancement and integration, as well as the tailoring of surface quality (porosity).

FGK extends partnership with AIM3D on ceramic AM research studying new CEM applications on an ExAM 255 system A CEM 3D printer has the charm of being able to print different materials, that is, combinations such as ceramic/ceramic, ceramic/polymers or ceramic/metal. 3D printing using the CEM process opens up a variety of possibilities thanks to hybrid material and hybrid manufacturing solutions.“Dr. Marcus Emmel, head of the competence centre at FGK

Research at FGK

The FGK institute conducts material analyses using various process technologies, including the CEM process, but also deals with granulate developments, such as new “formulations”. The aim is to further develop the performance of ceramics. This is complemented by the search for new areas of application for ceramic and hybrid 3D component solutions. The institute also offers material services on behalf of industrial companies and consulting services along the process chain. FGK is thus a facilitator between the producers of raw materials, machine manufacturers and the processing industry.

Ceramic components play a major role in medical implants due to their biocompatibility in combination with strength. In this regard, open-porous structures are particularly suitable for absorption in the tissue. Selective densities save material and weight and produce the desired Young’s moduli. The core application field, however, is technical ceramics.

Depending on the application, a ceramic solution can have the following characteristics:  heat resistance to well over 1000 °C, electrical insulation, high dielectric constants, high abrasion and wear resistance, variable degrees of hardness, variable thermal conductivity, low density or even low thermal expansion, to name just a few keywords of this versatile material.

Areas of application include, for example, heating elements, spark plugs, high-voltage elements, electronic circuits, ceramic capacitors with high volume capacity, sliding surfaces, nozzles for laser and water jet cutting (cutting nozzles), sliding bearings in pumps, pistons and cylinders, powder-coated metal surfaces, ball bearings, use as cutting material (cutting ceramics), in machining, coating of pumps in the chemical industry, as well as the implants mentioned in medical technology. Non-technical (traditional) ceramics are also important, for example, in the areas of utility ceramics (including porcelain), tiles, or sanitary objects, however, these materials are usually processed using other large format AM technologies such as LFAM (for concrete), pneumatic extrusion (for porcelain and clay) or binder jetting (for sand).

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