3D Ceram-Sinto, a Japanese-owned French company, is specializing in the 3D printing of ceramic objects. We were invited into their office in Limoges, in central-west France where they told us about their latest projects for space.
When we met 3D Ceram at Euromold in 2015, we discovered that ceramics could be made using lasers more rapidly than through the traditional process (read our article here, read our interview of 3D Ceram CEO here). The process is called laser stereolithography. A ceramic paste, made of photosensitive resin and ceramic particles, is polymerized by a laser printing process. After 48 hours, a rigid piece is obtained and goes under a heating operation where it reaches its final ceramic state.
Jewellery, aeronautics, aerospace and biomedicine have already shown great interest in this technology. Ceramic has indeed exceptional properties (heating resistant, scratch-tolerant, shock-resistant) that makes it an excellent candidate, for example, for foundry cores for making the internal elements of airplane turbines. But the traditional ceramic-making process is too long. 3D ceramics solves this issue, CEO Richard Gaignon explains:
Developing ceramics is time-consuming and expensive because of tooling costs. In contrast, 3D printing ceramics offers shorter and less expensive development because there’s no tooling. So you don’t have to make 10,000 items to amortize a mold. This is not mass production, but mass customization.
Moreover, 3D printing, whatever the material, offers almost endless possibilities for design and optimization, allowing you to make parts with very complex shapes.
This is what encouraged Bosch to purchase our printer, the Ceramaker 900, for its ability to make automotive parts with such a complexity that it would have been nearly impossible to make them with the traditional process.
On a Quest for Space
The company’s patented technology is today on a roll. The new big market for 3D Ceram is in the so-called “New Space” sector. The privatization of the space conquest has seen new players (such as SpaceX for example) enter the game, alongside traditional governmental agencies like NASA. Many startups are now taking the chance to build and send nano satellites or antennas into space, products that contain a lot of ceramic parts. And with 3D-printed ceramics, they may have found a new wonder material, explained Gaignon.
We can for example print the mirrors that are found inside satellites, which need to resist extreme temperatures and last for years. And 3D-printing allows to make these quicker and cheaper, which is a serious advantage fort start-ups. So new space is a booming market for us. And we are already working with several startups for a project of nano satellite constellations.
Besides space, 3D Ceram is going to tackle the American market. After opening a branch in China in 2017, the company is about to conquer the Eastern coast of the USA. 2018 is under favorable auspices. To be continued.