Can XJet’s NanoParticle Jetting Transform Ceramic and Metal AM?

The company claims to be the only one in the world that jets both material types.

Imagine being able to print a ceramic or metal part with the ease and repeatability of printing a document on an inkjet printer. Although more complex than that, XJet says its proprietary NanoParticle Jetting (NPJ) additive manufacturing (AM) technology makes getting those parts almost that easy.

Founded in 2005, the Israel-based company’s R&D specialists have been steadily working toward finessing NPJ technology that enables parts to be printed faster and with higher accuracy, regardless of how complex the geometries may be.

“We are jetting the material,” says Hanan Gothait, XJet founder and president. “It’s a big issue because everybody else is spreading the powder, like a sandbox, and either lasering it or building it up like a cake. We are the only company in the world that actually jets the material itself, and it creates a huge difference in the parts.”

What Makes XJet Different?

Unlike other AM technologies, which require a laser beam for fusing metal parts, NPJ is an innovative method that instead drops metal or ceramic nanoparticle liquids to build parts layer by layer. Its liquid dispersion methodology includes build and support materials. The liquid suspensions come in sealed cartridges, eliminating the need to handle potentially hazardous materials.

XJet’s Carmel 1400 incorporates nanoparticles to 3D print geometrically challenging ceramic or metal parts with high accuracy, repeatability and speed. (Image courtesy of XJet.)

XJet’s Carmel 1400 incorporates nanoparticles to 3D print geometrically challenging ceramic or metal parts with high accuracy, repeatability and speed. (Image courtesy of XJet.)

“We have the highest detail of definition, I would say, and it can do any geometry because we jet two materials one by the other,” Gothait says. “The support material is a different material that dissolves in liquid. The layer thickness of what we do is the thinnest in the industry. It’s 10 microns for ceramics, 8 microns for stainless steel and for metal, it compares to the industry, which is around 40, 50, 100 microns.”

According to XJet, the jetting process has printheads with thousands of inkjet nozzles that simultaneously jet millions of ultrafine drops of both build and support materials onto the system build tray in ultrathin layers. This means that nearly any geometry can be printed efficiently. Since the supports are made with a disintegrable material, the time spent on post-processing is reduced. Once a part is printed, the final sintering process happens overnight.

Regardless of whether a part is printed using ceramic or metal, the process works the same on either the XJet Carmel 1400C or Carmel 1400M. While one printer is for ceramics and the other for metal, both feature a 1,400 cm² build tray, enabling simultaneous production. The company claims to have spent years developing materials that are durable yet smooth and able to form fine details. While XJet continues to develop new materials, the ones available include:

  • Zirconia: Strong, tough ceramic material that is suitable for applications including dental, mortar and pestles, valve parts, bearing balls, machinery components, and chemistry lab use
  • Alumina: A common ceramic material due to its strength, wear resistance, electrical insulation and corrosion resistance that is used for machining tools, piping components, wire and thread guides and electrical insulators
  • Stainless Steel: A metal that is resistant to heat, cold and corrosion and which is often used for marine applications, chemical processing, petroleum refining and medical devices, among other applications

Gaining Ground in the Manufacturing Market

Although XJet was founded in 2005, it has gone through many evolutions. The company hit its stride in 2016 and raised $25 million through an investment round led by Autodesk and Catalyst CEL.

“Any technology that you start from scratch, it’s really complex because you have to deal with so many different issues—starting from making sure it’s working and then working well and then making sure it’s safe, repeatable, cost-effective and so on,” Gothait says. “It took, I would say, seven, eight years in the lab. We spent a huge amount of money in developing this technology, but the outcome is absolutely amazing. We have probably the best technology in the world for small parts, high-quality, high accuracy.”

With its ceramics options on the market for a few years, the company recently helped Spyros Panopoulos Automotive (SPA) manufacture the first ceramic car piston for its Chaos Ultracar, which is still in development. The car of the future aims to be a revolutionary vehicle made with 3D-printed parts and aerospace materials.

Using XJet’s NPJ Carmel 1400C AM printer, SPA was able to create the first all-ceramic piston. (Image courtesy of SPA.)

Using XJet’s NPJ Carmel 1400C AM printer, SPA was able to create the first all-ceramic piston. (Image courtesy of SPA.)

With a goal to create a vehicle that can move faster than 310 mph (500 kph), can accelerate from 0 to 62 mph (100 kph) in 1.55 seconds and reach 12,200 RPM with 3,065 horsepower, SPA founder Spyros Panopolous said in a press release, “There’s absolutely no room for error in this project.” Such a high level of performance requires parts that can handle the stress—thus the “anadiaplasi” piston was created. The end result was a complex shape not suitable for traditional manufacturing methods. Additionally, the material used to create the part needed to be better utilized, allowing for optimal weight, as well as being strong, temperature-resistant and lightweight.

AM quickly unfolded as the solution for achieving the accuracy and proper surface finish. XJet’s Alumina met all the requirements.

“Ceramic offers many advantages compared to other materials,” Panopolous said. “Harder and stiffer than steel, more resistant to heat and corrosion than metals or polymers and weighing significantly less than most metals and alloys. XJet’s Alumina parts will withstand the high temperatures expected to develop within the combustion chamber as well as on the fast-moving parts. XJet systems are uniquely capable of producing this part in ceramic.”

Along with the piston, approximately 78 percent of the vehicle’s body, intake valves, engine block and camshaft are being 3D printed.

“We are proud to be using such progressive technology in our Ultracar,” Panopolous said. “Our projects push performance to the extreme and so we are extremely selective about the materials and technologies we use. I believe this is the first time ceramic AM is being used in motorsport and I feel privileged to take that pioneering step.”

The metal side of XJet’s NPJ technologies is just entering the market. Israel-based Azoth 3D, an additive manufacturing specialist, is the first to lay claim to a Carmel 1400M.

“We have a huge wealth of experience in metal manufacturing, with both additive and subtractive processes,” said Scott Burk, Azoth CEO, in a press release. “XJet’s metal system delivers capabilities that are in high demand in the market but are not achievable with other technologies—parts with fine features, high resolution, good surface finish right off the printer at a level we have not seen before. The ease-of-use and safety working with the XJet system, which does not involve handling powders, is another important factor for us.”

The company, supported by the EWIE Group of Companies (EGC), works with global manufacturing leaders, including Chrysler, Ford, John Deere and Rolls-Royce. With the knowledge that traditional AM methods were often lacking when it came to producing small, complex parts, XJet soon came on its radar.

“One of the main advantages of Azoth’s approach is going from prototype to production with the same process, which XJet technology is perfectly suited to support,” said Cody Cochran, Azoth general manager and cofounder, in a press release. “We will be able to take parts from a multitude of industries, such as automotive, medical, tooling, etcetera, and prototype them, refine them into end-use components and bring them to production with the same machine and no expensive additional tooling or lengthy lead times. By almost automating the entire workflow, as XJet does, we think we can achieve true repeatability.”

Moving Forward

XJet has no plans of slowing down, and there are ambitious plans to grow the company. After only a few years, the ceramic technology has quickly grown. Now that it is commercially available, XJet expects its metal AM to steadily make its way into many different industries.

“I just know for what we do, we are the best,” Gothait says. “There’s always competition, but most of what’s going on in the market today is, companies are doing beautiful parts, not to the same level of accuracy and sophistication and so on. There aren’t many applications for that. We are in a segment that people need. Customers like Azoth need high accuracy. There, we are probably the best or the only player that supplies such quality.”