LMM Process for Printing Titanium Smartwatch Housings: A 3D Printing Innovation

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In a collaborative effort between Incus GmbH and Element22 GmbH, a new development in personalized titanium smartwatch housing production has been achieved through lithography-based metal manufacturing (LMM) technology.

The project, led by Gerald Mitteramskogler and Matthias Scharvogel, delved into the challenges of processing Ti64 in additive manufacturing. The research yielded a feedstock comprising Ti64 powder at a 55Vol% solids loading, which undergoes photopolymerization during light irradiation.

This resulted in green parts with a remarkable 13 MPa green strength, surpassing other sinter-based additive manufacturing processes. This high strength facilitated automated handling during extraction and deposition onto the sintering setter.

The watch housings are 3D printed, sandblasted, then colored. Source: Incus/Element22

Throughout the process of debinding and sintering, the binder experiences thermal decomposition. This leaves a dense and mechanically functional metal powder in its stead. Solid materials with theoretical densities exceeding 99% are achieved using the LMM process. This process also delivers a remarkable surface finish of 2µm Ra (as-sintered) and a resolution of 35 µm.

In addition, an innovative low-carbon photopolymer-based binder system was developed alongside a tailored thermal processing route for Ti64. The resulting Ti64 exhibited mechanical properties that not only met but exceeded the ASTM F2885-17 standards for applications in the realm of medical implants.

There are benefits to mass customization via LMM. Notably, it provides MIM-like quality parts in a matter of hours. This greatly decreases the amount of time it takes to get products to the market. This is especially the case for high-quality prototypes and mass customization. Incus’ HammerPro40 AM machine showcases the ability to build up to sixteen watch cases in less than 2 and a half hours. This machine boasts an annual production capacity of roughly 35,000 pieces.

“With a fully customized smartwatch housing, we can achieve a competitive cost structure compared to traditional manufacturing technologies, especially when designs can no longer be realized with MIM or CNC.” said Mitteramskogler. This achievement is about more than manufacturing efficiency; it’s a shift in the bounds of what’s possible.

The successful application of LMM in titanium smartwatch housing production represents a significant leap in manufacturing efficiency and cost-effectiveness. As the industry continues to evolve, the future holds promise for quicker prototyping and mass customization, paving the way for a new era in smartwatch design and production – especially with exotic metals.

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