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Industrializing Metal Additive Manufacturing


Image source: 3D Alliances


Metal 3D printing has been around for over 30 years, since the introduction of the first metal system by EOS, which unveiled its prototype EOSINT M160 machine based on metal laser sintering technology. The goal was to offer users a new digital manufacturing technique to produce a small number of metal parts for specific applications.

 

Since then, the market has consistently evolved, particularly in the past 5 years, due to the industry shift from prototyping to manufacturing applications. As of today, there are various metal AM technologies on the market aiming to lead the digital metal AM revolution.

 

One of these companies is Tritone Technologies, an Israeli AM company that has developed a unique process called MoldJet, which produces accurate metal and ceramic components from a variety of materials. What makes Tritone's technology unique compared to other metal AM technologies in the industry, and what are the benefits of their production process? I paid the company a visit to learn more.


Short background

Tritone was founded in 2017 by an experienced team of entrepreneurs who sought to overcome the limitations of legacy metal AM technologies and develop a brand-new technology. Their aim was to address the gap in low to medium-level production volume for producing accurate metal components at an industrial scale and speed.

 

At Formnext 2019, the company introduced its industrial AM system for the first time – the Tritone Dominant, and at the end of 2021, it launched its second system called the Tritone Dim, which is a smaller version of its flagship product. The company is backed by a single investor, Fortissimo Capital, which is one of the largest private equities in Israel, primarily investing in technology and industrial companies.


Tritone Technologies team at Formnext 2023. Image source: Tritone Technologies


The MoldJet technology

MoldJet is a powder-free AM technology designed for producing complex geometric parts with high density and supreme mechanical properties. The printing process unfolds as follows: first, the mold is produced in a single layer as a negative of the component geometry using a wax-like polymer via inkjet print heads. This printed layer of mold material is then applied with metal paste via a slotted nozzle and a squeegee. Due to the layer-by-layer design, it becomes possible to produce complex components with undercuts or even internal channels without the need for support structures.

 

Once the process is completed, the green parts are transferred to the sintering furnace. With less than 2% binder, the parts already exhibit good density before entering the sintering furnace. Following sintering, the company has demonstrated the ability to achieve densities above 99%, which is highly impressive.



Materials are the key

One of the major limitations of metal AM technologies is the restricted range of materials that can be used with a specific technology. Even if sufficient materials are available, it's often challenging to switch between them on the same machine. As a result, industrial users with adequate budgets often opt to purchase a separate system for each material to avoid the lengthy and cumbersome process of material switching between jobs.

 

Tritone's process is based on MIM powders, which are more common and accessible than AM powders used in other metal AM technologies. These powders are mixed with Tritone's special binder to form a paste that is then filled into a cartridge. This approach eliminates the safety challenge of exposing users to metal powder, a critical concern for many industrial users. Furthermore, since the printing process is conducted at standard room temperature, Tritone's systems can be installed and operated in a standard office environment without the need for special filters or humidity control.

 

The wide variety of materials offered by Tritone provides users access to a broader spectrum of manufacturing applications, utilizing materials commonly used in the MIM industry. This diversity is an important consideration when evaluating new manufacturing technology as an addition to traditional manufacturing methods.

 

Another advantage is the capability for a relatively smooth and quick development of new materials whether standard such as stainless steels or special like gold, molybdenum, etc.


Tritone Technologies materials selection. Total of 10 metal and ceramic based materials


Broad spectrum of applications

The true value of any Metal AM technology, regardless of its level of innovation compared to other technologies, lies in the spectrum of applications it can be suited for. This could range from a single winning application in a specific sector to a variety of applications on a broader scale. Ultimately, the decision to use AM to produce a specific part must be justified when compared with traditional metal manufacturing methods.

 

I visited the company's development center to gain a better understanding of Tritone's focus on targeting ideal applications for their technology. Here are a few that caught my eye:


RF slotted antenna

Material – Copper

Industry – Aerospace & Defense

The challenge was to produce an affordable, advanced RF slotted antenna while meeting strict requirements for repeatability, accuracy, and consistency. Tritone's technology proved to be up to the task, capable of delivering 90 parts in 6 hours, translating to 780,000 parts per year, at a cost of $35 per unit. This was a significant achievement, particularly in producing internal cavities with thin walls and fine details, especially in a challenging material like copper.



Hi-Temp extruder bracket

Material – SS 15-5 PH

Industry – Machine manufacturing

The objective was to implement a high-complexity extruder for elevated-temperature production in a cost-effective manner, enabling efficient manufacturing of large batches of identical parts. MoldJet technology proved its capability by producing 90 parts in 23 hours, equivalent to 31,550 parts annually, at a cost of $35 per part. This serves as a compelling example of a real and cost-effective end-use part application, particularly using stainless steel material.


Captive nut connector

Material – SS 17-4 PH

Industry – Pneumatics

In this instance, the objective was to consolidate multiple part assemblies into a unified model integrating moving pieces with minimal clearances. MoldJet technology demonstrated its capability by producing 240 parts in 14.6 hours, equivalent to 53,290 parts annually, at a cost of $16.6 per component. A great example of an end-use part application for a medium-scale production need.



Industrializing metal AM

When industrial users contemplate adding Metal AM as an additional manufacturing process, they consider various factors such as supplier profile, technical specifications, product stability, reliability, and more. However, above all, without a diverse range of suitable materials, it can be challenging for them to find enough applications to justify the investment.

 

Tritone Technologies stands out as a prime example of a 'new generation' company that recognized this crucial need during the development of their technology. They have built an end-to-end workflow for producing metal components at an industrial scale, focusing on addressing material versatility. Undoubtedly, Tritone is a company worth keeping an eye on in the coming years!

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