XJet’s Andy Middleton Highlights the Importance of Jetting Soluble Supports in Simplifying Metal Additive Manufacturing

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XJet promises a new era in additive manufacturing (AM). Pairing its newest material with its hardware could unlock the key to the industry’s future, says XJet Chief Business Officer Andrew Middleton. 3DPrint.com spoke to the executive about the company’s road ahead and what its latest launch means for the medical industry.

Middleton provided deeper insights into XJet’s journey and the value of the new 17-4PH stainless steel solution, featuring a new soluble support material that shortens the end-to-end manufacturing timeline. He described XJet as still in the startup phase, focusing on penetrating the ceramic and metal markets. “We discovered that we can print metal even better than ceramics,” Middleton noted, underscoring the company’s strategic shift towards metal AM.

One of the biggest challenges in metal AM has been the labor-intensive post-processing required to remove support structures and reach the desired finish. Middleton emphasized that this has been a major barrier to wider adoption. “The burden of post-processing is inherent in metal additive manufacturing,” he explained. However, XJet has made a breakthrough with its jetting soluble support, integrated into its machines and dissolves away effortlessly, eliminating the need for extensive manual labor.

“We have cracked the code,” Middleton asserted. “It’s about jetting soluble support, which easily washes away.” This innovation streamlines the entire process, making metal AM more efficient and cost-effective.

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XJet relies on a rapid three-step process called Print-Wash-Sinter, distinguishing it from other brands in the market. First, the parts are printed using XJet’s patented NanoParticle Jetting technology in their Carmel 1400M machine. Next, the soluble support material is washed away using an automated washing system known as SMART (Support Material Automated Removal Technology), drastically reducing post-processing time. Finally, the parts are sintered in a separate sintering furnace. This unique approach means they can handle complex geometries and internal structures without the extensive manual labor required by other methods.

Currently, XJet is unique in offering this specific combination of soluble support material and an automated washing system. While other 3D printing companies also work on reducing post-processing efforts, XJet’s integration of these steps, particularly the jetting of soluble support, sets them apart and offers a significant advantage in the efficiency and quality of metal AM.

Middleton emphasized the transformative nature of this technology. “The time and labor savings gained with XJet technology cannot be understated, particularly the minimal post-processing requirements now reduced to as little as six hours.”

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Building on this innovation, XJet’s latest material, the 17-4PH stainless steel, introduces new possibilities for AM. One of the standout features of the 17-4PH stainless steel is its compatibility with XJet’s NanoParticle Jetting technology, which allows for precise and intricate designs with minimal post-processing.

According to the company, the combination of high hardness and tensile strength makes it ideal for demanding applications. The medical industry stands to benefit the most from it, particularly in the production of medical devices and surgical instruments, where precision and reliability are crucial. The ability to produce parts with complex internal geometries and fine details without extensive manual labor gives XJet an edge in this sector, addressing the specific needs of medical manufacturers.

Medical instruments 3D printed with the new 17-4PH stainless steel material from Xact Metal. Image courtesy of Xact Metal.

Furthermore, the efficiency of XJet’s process drastically reduces production time. “We produce thousands and thousands of parts in metal and ceramics with minimal post-processing,” Middleton explained. “In conventional techniques, it needs 20 days, but we bring it down to four and a half to five days. This substantial time saving is a game-changer for industries that require rapid turnaround and high-quality production.”

XJet’s innovations excel in the medical sector, yet their impact extends far beyond. The new 17-4PH stainless steel solution is set to revolutionize aerospace, defense, and oil and gas, especially if combined with NPJ technology’s accuracy of 50 microns.

Middleton shared a recent success story about a German company that produces intricate nozzles for injection molding machines. Using XJet’s technology, they reduced production costs by two-thirds.

“Additive manufacturing with our technology is taking a huge leap forward,” says Middleton. “Post-processing has always been the number one challenge in industries like medical, aerospace, and luxury goods. What do we do when we get the parts out of the machine? XJet uniquely solves this with our print-wash-sinter process, delivering unmatched surface finish and cavity enhancement.”

With a focus on reducing post-processing times and enhancing the quality of metal parts, Middleton believes the company is well-positioned to lead the industry into a new era of innovation. He is optimistic about the future, noting that XJet has undergone significant organizational changes since February. The company has downsized and replaced its entire board of directors and management team. Currently, the management team includes Guy Zimmerman, the CEO, and Middleton himself.

Despite reducing the workforce by 60% compared to a year ago, XJet has tripled its revenue, showcasing a more efficient and effective operation. This “leaner structure,” as Middleton described, has facilitated expansion into new applications and industries, such as luxury goods, and bolstered its market presence in Germany, Italy, Switzerland, and North America.

Reflecting on the broader industry, Middleton sees a future where AM is selective but transformative. He notes that moving from traditional subtractive methods to AM will take time due to current limitations in speed, cost, and scalability. Despite these challenges, he sees significant potential in specific segments, particularly metals and ceramics.

“No current technology fully supports the mass production needed for widespread manufacturing adoption. Additive manufacturing is a sphere and playground no company has fully addressed. The existing technologies are too slow and expensive for large-scale production. That’s why I believe in XJet, and that’s why I am at XJet. There’s no current scalable technology that meets the industry’s needs, but we are making strides toward that future,” he concludes.

Visitors to the 2024 RAPID+TCT event in Los Angeles had the opportunity to see XJet’s 17-4PH stainless steel material in action, and hear more from Middleton.

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