High Speed Sintering Company Formed with Stratasys Investment
Michael Molitch-Hou posted on July 24, 2018 |
Engineering.com speaks to Neil Hopkinson about the formation of 3D printing spin-off Xaar 3D Limited...

After emerging from its early days in the lab and entering the commercial space, High Speed Sintering is taking another developmental leap with the formation of Xaar 3D Limited, a company dedicated to commercializing fast and scalable 3D printing technology. Giving a boost to the newly formed business is an investment by Stratasys, one of the largest players in the additive manufacturing industry.

The High Speed Sintering printhead performing a print. (Image courtesy of Loughborough University.)
The High Speed Sintering printhead performing a print. (Image courtesy of Loughborough University.)

To learn more about the new firm and its ties to Stratasys, we spoke to the director of 3D for Xaar 3D, Neil Hopkinson.

Bringing High Speed Sintering to Xaar

With its development beginning in the early 2000s, High Speed Sintering started in the labs of Loughborough University and, later, the University of Sheffield. Hopkinson and his team looked to create a technology that could take on mass manufacturing methods like injection molding.

The process sees an inkjet printhead deposit black infrared radiation absorbing ink onto a bed of thermoplastic powder, which outlines the desired shape, before an infrared lamp heats the powder and causes the particles to fuse.

In 2016, Hopkinson carried the technology over to UK-based industrial printhead manufacturer Xaar PLC, where he acted as its director of 3D Printing. There, the team continued developing HighSpeedSintering machines under its newly formed 3D Printing business unit, while Xaar’s core business continued manufacturing industrial printheads to sell to original equipment manufacturers.

“As both business units progressed, it got to the point on the High Speed Sintering side where we thought it made sense to maintain focus by setting up a new business dedicated to High Speed Sintering,” Hopkinson said. “This gives us a bit more flexibility. It just made sense to make a new venture that was purely focused on High Speed Sintering machines.”

High Speed Sintering technology will continue to be licensed by Loughborough University and printheads will continue to be sold by Xaar PLC to Xaar 3D Ltd, along with other companies, including large-scale 3D printer manufacturer voxeljet.

Bringing on Stratasys

Hopkinson explained that when Xaar PLC initially set its High Speed Sintering activity, he already had a team that was very experienced in terms of 3D printing process and material development. With Xaar PLC’s acquisition of Blueprinter, a Danish manufacturer of polymer sintering 3D printers, the team gained expertise in machine design and development.

“With the Copenhagen team and the Nottingham team, we made progress and it clearly seems that we got a very good technical offering,” Hopkinson said. “Then, what we felt that we needed to add was commercial expertise in terms of go-to-market with AM machines.”

While the Copenhagen team has some experience in that realm, Stratasys is considered one of the leading companies in the space, in addition to being the company with the largest market share. Stratasys will hold 15 percent of the new company, leaving Xaar with 85 percent, but Stratasys has been given the option to increase its ownership to 30 percent.

“We are impressed with the Xaar team’s achievements to date,” said Scott Crump, chief innovation officer of Stratasys, in a press release. “We believe that the complementary assets of Stratasys and Xaar will enable Xaar 3D Ltd to develop solutions that further address customers' additive manufacturing requirements for a broader range of production applications.”

The new company’s board of directors will be chaired by Xaar CEO Doug Edwards. “We are delighted to launch our partnership with Stratasys,” Edwards said.“This joint investment in the development of 3D printing technologies reinforces the value created by our R&D and continues our plan to diversify Xaar’s business. We are also pleased to be working alongside a leader in the 3D printing space, who recognises the value of Xaar’s technology and expertise.”

A taillight cover prototype 3D printed using the Stratasys J750. (Image courtesy of Stratasys.)
A taillight cover prototype 3D printed using the Stratasys J750. (Image courtesy of Stratasys.)

Stratasys is a natural investor for Xaar 3D Ltd, given its own PolyJet technology, which uses piezoelectric inkjet printheads to deposit photopolymer resin. The Stratasys J750 3D printer, which uses PolyJet, can print parts in 500,000 different color combinations with an array of physical properties, including varying stiffness and transparency.

It will be interesting to see just what sort of synergy is possible between the two companies. One can imagine how the speed and scalability of High Speed Sintering could be combined with the material capabilities of PolyJet to form something that could take on HP’s MultiJet Fusion process one day.

A shoe with a heel made with High Speed Sintering. (Image courtesy of Loughborough University.)
A shoe with a heel made with High Speed Sintering. (Image courtesy of Loughborough University.)

Hopkinson, however, was not able to comment on new capabilities or future developments, saying only that he believes Xaar 3D has a bright future and that the company will tackle a range of verticals, including consumer products, aerospace and automotive. “We can’t talk in any detail at the moment, but having Stratasys on board will really help us to de-risk the whole process and ensure a successful product rollout when the time is right.”

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