This week XJet hosted the first in person event (ever!) of Women in 3D printing (Wi3DP) Israel. Aside from the pleasure of a face to face (really – no masks!) event finally, after a year and a half of masks and distancing, it was great to exchange views and meet new people. The event included a historical review of 3D printing in Israel (celebrating 36 years of innovation this year), a Wi3DP panel, a very interesting presentation by Ophira Melamed (the Manager of XJet’s AM Center) on ceramics applications using XJet’s technology, and a tour of the XJet lab where we saw even more examples. Melamed’s presentation and lab tour really stuck with me – specifically I was impressed by the many different applications. Definitely worthy of a post in the #AMapplications series, so here it is: just a few applications of ceramics additive manufacturing (AM) courtesy of Melamed and XJet.
I always think of ceramic mugs when I hear ceramics and that gets me thinking about how they can be brittle, but ceramics has another side: it is very hard and can withstand very high temperatures. The hardness makes it a great sharp knife, for example – my favorite peeler is made with a ceramics blade so far it has outperformed and outlived my metal peelers. Similarly, ceramics is used in chip packaging as well. In both these applications ceramics replaces metal and according to Hanan Gothait, XJet’s CEO, that is what will happen in additive manufacturing (AM) as well.
My favorite application that Melamed highlighted was a potential breakthrough in breast cancer treatment. It turns out that with an MRI, technicians can see very small, early breast cancer tumors. With this early detection, a freezing agent can be administered to the exact location (still under MRI), freezing the tiny tumor and thus killing it. Our body knows how to get rid of this small amount of dead cells on its own. This procedure has the potential to prevent breast cancer from developing. What’s the problem? Usually needles are made of metal and so cannot be used in an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging). Ceramics is hard enough and MRI-proof so it can be used as a probe for reaching and freezing the tumor. The probe (see below) looks simple on the outside but inside has a complex geometry to enable efficient cryotherapy.
At the top you can see a 5G passive lens antenna made of Zirconia (a type of ceramics) using an XJet 3D printer. This part is use for beamforming and making sure the beam is split correctly in the correct directions. The required geometry for this technology is so complex that Melamed says it could only be produced with AM and because of the fine features and strict requirements XJet’s technology was chosen. This application is printed in a harder kind of ceramics called Zirconia but for other applications there is also Alumina which is a lighter and cheaper ceramic material often used in semiconductor (chip) packaging. During the lab tour I saw an even denser antenna with smaller holes for 5G technology. Fascinating!
In a previous post in the #AMapplications series, we talked about dental applications. Those were mostly polymer (and a few metal) applications. Melamed mentioned XJet’s ceramic solution for dental crowns. It seems only natural since crowns are typically made of ceramics and it’s becoming more and more prevalent to have a digital scan of the teeth in any case. Melamed claims that with CNC there is 95% material waste when producing a crown (while, of course, with AM there is practically no waste) and she also claims it is 50% cheaper to produce a crown with AM than it is with CNC. This could be a breakthrough in terms of costs – I want to say I’m looking forward to it being widely available but I find it hard to say I’m looking forward to owning one….
Whether it’s medical, communication, or other applications in tooling or the consumer market, it seems that the number of ceramics AM applications is growing. At the event this week, Dror Danai (XJet’s CBO) gave a historical overview of 3D printing in Israel – including some milestones I was not aware of. One of the things that were clear in view of the history of AM is that we ain’t seen nothing yet. I’m curious to see what future applications people will dream up for ceramics 3D printing.