Materials and method twinned for success – ceramic additive manufacturing

3D print

Ceramic Expo’s webinar last week continued the knowledge exchange and discussion on the principles of ceramic additive manufacturing (AM). People tuned in to hear speakers from XJET, the University of Louisville and Boston Ceramics discuss how to adapt the additive manufacturing design process for ceramics. The webinar is now available on demand here.

Technical ceramics have increasingly been used for thousands of engineering components – often replacing metals and plastics – due to the very special combination of properties such as high density and hardness, excellent wear resistance, superior frictional behavior, high fracture toughness, resistance to thermal shock, low thermal conductivity, low coefficient of thermal expansion, and bioinert state.

However, future prospects are ramped right up by the suite of tools offered by additive manufacturing (3D printing) technologies. Early systems experimented with conventional ceramic components, but since then AM adopters have not only successfully worked with highly complex ceramic geometries but have seen broadening possibilities for the use of related products such as metal-ceramic and polymer-ceramic composites and CMCs.

It has quickly become clear that, notwithstanding the challenges presented by potential shape, shrinkage and sintering problems – several end user industries are making the conscious decision to incorporate AM much more widely into their future manufacturing strategies. We can include in this group aerospace, medical/biomedical, automotive, electronics, construction, energy, marine and precision engineering.

The great pay-off here is that AM gives design engineers the opportunity to come up with new products and shapes – truly novel solutions for a host of applications – and with the iterative process opened up, they can do so rapidly as well. At the same time, users are guaranteed the superior mechanical, chemical and thermal properties offered by technical ceramics.

By comparison with other forming techniques – injection molding, dry pressing, plastic forming, pressure casting, extrusion, isostatic pressing – ceramic AM is certainly still in its infancy, albeit acknowledged to be growing at a fast rate. It seems, moreover, to be a highly adaptable technology and well suited to the agile manufacturing environment.

The extent of the potential is revealed if we take just a cursory glance at one industry. Let us consider healthcare for instance. Looking at possible product areas, we can predict some involvement for ceramic AM in dental implants (the largest application of medical ceramics), vertebrae spacers and extensors, neuroprosthetics (ear implants, for instance), femoral head implants and other bioceramics, scaffolds, pacemakers, dialysis machines, respirators, CAT scans, laser surgery, cardiology components, tools such as surgical saws, filters and pumps, pressure sensors, valves, labware, X-ray tubes and much more besides. If we extend this thinking across the other manufacturing industries adopting ceramic AM – and these are just the ones we know about today – then we can understand why a growth spurt is likely.

The commercial impact of all this cannot be underestimated. In its second, updated report on the global ceramic AM market (published just two months ago), SmarTech Publishing has employed the full gamut of analyses – supported with hardware and material market shipments, sales, installations, and future forecasts – to provide a fully comprehensive insight into the future of this sector. Its headline conclusion is that ceramics AM will have an overall market value (including applications) of $3.678 billion by 2028.

Ceramics Expo 2019 already promises to feature some of the world-leaders in ceramic AM named in the SmarTech report, and has dedicated a conference session to examining advances in additive manufacturing techniques and materials.

Learn more about ceramic AM in our free webinar: Adding Value Through Design: Principles for Ceramic Additive Manufacturing.