Gil Lavi with Praveen Tummala and Paul Spoliansky. Image source: 3D Alliances
I admit that after 17 years in the Additive Manufacturing industry, it's hard for me to be impressed. As the industry shifts from prototyping to manufacturing solutions, a new approach is required to move towards real manufacturing standards. In many cases, simply printing smaller or larger, faster, and at lower costs is just not enough to convince manufacturers to integrate Additive Manufacturing into their production processes.
Breaking through these limitations is necessary to expand the spectrum of possible applications across various industries and to support the industry's growth in the years to come. This is far from an easy task, as end-use parts must not only meet higher standards than prototypes, but the results should also be accurate and repeatable without any compromises.
One of the companies I recently encountered that has the potential to change this paradigm is Axtra3D. They have taken a unique approach by inventing a new 3D printing technology that effectively combines three well-known and proven technologies: SLA, DLP, and LCD. This approach allows users to enjoy the benefits of these mature technologies on a single platform and produce end-use parts at production speed.
Last year, the company unveiled its revolutionary hybrid photosynthesis (HPS) technology for the first time, aiming to propel Additive Manufacturing a significant step forward. What sets this technology apart and distinguishes it from existing polymer technologies in the market?
Gianni Zitelli, Co-Founder & CEO of Axtra3D. Image source: Axtra3D
Axtra3D was established in 2021 by two entrepreneurs - Gianni Zitelli, the founder of NEXA3D, a California-based resin AM company, and Praveen Tummala, a material and technology expert who spent 10 years at 3D Systems. Together, they set the ultimate goal of overcoming the existing limitations of polymer Additive technologies, which encompass size, quality, accuracy, and speed.
To expedite the research and development process, Axtra3D partnered with the on-demand manufacturing platform Xometry, resulting in the creation of the unique Lumia X1 3D printer in a remarkably short span of time. Just before Formnext 2022, the company secured $6.25 million in Series A funding, led by HZG Group, to attract talent and accelerate the development process. Axtra3D is headquartered in Charlotte, NC, USA, with a subsidiary in Vicenza, Italy, and employs 20 individuals.
Axtra3D team members. Image source: Axtra3D
The photosynthesis (HPS) technology
When developing a new technology, it becomes necessary to define the problem you are aiming to solve. In the case of Axtra3D, the company sought to eliminate the predicament faced by users when choosing between SLA, DLP, or LCD technologies. Each method has its own set of advantages and disadvantages, often entailing a discernible trade-off between quality, size, and speed. The question arose: why not harness the benefits of all three processes simultaneously?
The Hybrid Photosynthesis (HPS) technology emerges as an innovative light engine solution, seamlessly amalgamating digital light processing (image generation) with stereolithography (laser) within a single co-axial system. This configuration enables both light sources to operate synchronously, emitting light at the same wavelength onto the identical image plane. Here, the image generator accomplishes the curing of the bulk cross-section through a process termed "Flash Hatching," while the laser establishes the outer contours. This integration results in unparalleled surface quality, precision, and a remarkable 50-micron resolution spanning the entire build platform.
Polymer additive technologies comparison. Image source: Axtra3D
To ensure that printing speed remains unaffected, an additional innovative feature was developed, known as TruLayer technology. This advancement involves the integration of a trio of sensors beneath the printer's membrane on the glass plate to eliminate unnecessary inter-layer delays. The outcome is a doubling of printing speed when compared to competing alternatives, all while upholding exceptional precision.
The culmination of these efforts is the Lumia X1 – an industrial polymer-based 3D printing system. It fabricates substantial, precise, and flawlessly smooth-surfaced components, requiring minimal post-processing, and in addition it’s completely open both from a parameter access and material perspectives. In other words, it's a production additive system.
A gate to new applications
The HPS technology broadens the spectrum of potential applications, enabling the creation of parts that were previously challenging or, in some instances, even impossible to produce. Here are four noteworthy examples that exemplify the true value of this technology: functional prototyping, end-use parts, injection molding tooling, and investment casting.
A functional prototype must be well-suited for three distinct types of testing: form, fit, and perhaps most importantly, function. In this particular scenario, we have 15 hose nozzles that can be subjected to water testing prior to undergoing mass production using conventional manufacturing methods.
The entirety of these 15 parts has been manufactured utilizing a material known as Axtra3D Draft Grey, which boasts the necessary mechanical properties for this form of testing. Moreover, this material ensures a remarkable degree of accuracy and consistency across all parts, lending itself to high precision and repeatability.
Differing from a prototype, an end-use part necessitates complete functionality over an extended period, within a genuine environment. In this instance, the objective is the fabrication of 20 electrical connectors utilizing a material named Evonik ST6100L.
This material offers superb mechanical attributes, featuring a fusion of high strength and elongation capabilities. Moreover, it boasts exceptional temperature resistance, showcasing values such as 89 MPa for flexural stress, 145 MPa for HDT (Heat Deflection Temperature), and a notable HDT of 120°C.
Injection molding tooling
Molds stand out as among the most demanding components to manufacture using additive methods, due to the necessity for a sleek surface finish, exceptional accuracy, and the utilization of a material endowed with elevated stiffness and temperature endurance.
For this particular scenario, the material of choice is a ceramic-filled resin known as BASF Ultracur3D® RG 3280. This material showcases an exceedingly high stiffness rating, measuring approximately 10 GPa, and exhibits an HDT B (Heat Deflection Temperature under load) that surpasses 280°C.
Crafting castable components necessitates an additive technology that can deliver exceptional accuracy and a flawless surface finish, expediting the production process significantly. Additionally, the material employed must be well-suited for a burning phase, characterized by a low coefficient of thermal expansion.
For this purpose, the 3DM-CAST material was employed in fabricating Impeller casting patterns, ensuring their readiness for the casting process.
Taking AM a big step forward
The approach taken by Axtra3D serves as a notable illustration of how additive solution developers can aid manufacturers in transitioning their production methods from conventional techniques to digital ones. This transition becomes feasible through a thorough comprehension of the current limitations associated with various additive technologies. By addressing these limitations, Axtra3D offers a solution grounded in a robust and dependable technology, ultimately guaranteeing consistent and foreseeable outcomes over time.