3DM on Developing a Faster, More Optimized SLS 3D Printing In Order to Scale Up Production


Since its inception in the 1980s, 3D printing technology has advanced significantly. In the last few years, additive manufacturing has become more industrialized and is now used in many industries for parts. There are still many questions about the process’s scalability and its application in production. We’re seeing an increase in innovation to tackle these challenges. 3DM, a company that developed its own printhead based on parallel laser beam technology, is an example. This solution can increase printing resolution and speed while increasing print throughput. Ido Eylon is the CEO.

3DN: Can you introduce 3DM and yourself?

Ido Eylon is the CEO of 3DM

Ido, I’m the CEO at 3DM. I’ve been there for the last year. Prior to that, I had worked in the AM sector. I worked as the VP for sales and marketing at Massivit for three-years. Prior to that, I had worked for Stratasys for almost a ten-year period. The merger of Stratasys with Objet was the catalyst which brought me over. I began in a more technical position and managed the Israeli applications team. It’s important to mention because this is how I developed my understanding of what makes sense to do with the technology, and also what not to do with it. After a few years I moved to North America to be the pre-sales and applications manager. I was in a position where I was able to get closer to customers and use cases while also gaining exposure to the business aspect of the industry. After a couple of years, I moved to the US and became the applications and pre-sales manager for North America. This role allowed me to get closer to the customers and the use cases mentioned while gaining more exposure to the business side of the industry. Total three and a half years spent in Singapore where I gained exposure to the business, commercial, applications, and use cases.

Just before moving to 3DM, I was quite excited about the movement of the industry from “rapid prototyping” to industrial and I’ve identified in 3DM a way to get into this. SLS, in general, is an important technology for production volumes up to 10,000 pieces. 3DM can help to further enhance SLS’s capabilities.

3DM was founded in the meantime by Dr. Daniel Majer, who has a PhD in Physics from Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science. He was a laser expert before founding 3DM and had already led companies in this field. He raised some money in Israel from an incubator and built his first prototype. 3DM began to grow. We went public in Tel Aviv around 2 years ago, raising more capital to continue the development and are now on the brink of commercialization. We expect in the next few months that we’ll have our first few beta units out in the field.

3DN: 3DM is a pioneer in SLS 3D Printing. What is the technology behind it?

It is important that we answer the question “Why SLS?” before moving on to our solution. SLS, even if it is not optimized, is the technology which shows the most promise for true industrial production using 3D printing. The reason for this is that SLS can be used to produce many parts of high quality at the same time, and it’s also customizable. It still faces its own set of challenges, which we aim to solve with our solution.

The 3DM Printing Process

It all starts with the lasers. We have developed our own QCL-lasers. The most unique feature of these lasers, however, is that they have been designed and manufactured specifically for optimal plastic melting. We don’t just take a CO2 or fiber laser off the shelf nor are we just making adjustments while limiting the range of materials that are possible. We work closely with our lasers, analyzing the desired materials and tuning the lasers for the right wavelength to melt them.

In order to understand the process, you should first consider an FTIR (Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy). They are used for a variety of scientific purposes, such as to test the quality of foods or to detect explosives or prohibited materials. This shows which wavelengths interact best with the desired material. Our founder began here to develop our own technology.

Each material has a wavelength, or a couple of wavelengths, that is most effective for melting. You can see this directly on an FTIR because it has peaks. The goal is to get as close to the peak as possible to make the material react the way you want. If you use a CO2 Laser, the peaks will always be 10.6 microns. If your material absorbs enough light, it may melt, or it may not. You can also choose a laser with higher power, but you will have to pay more for it. So, there’s never really a point where the laser itself has been optimized for each material. This is where we step in to see how the materials react to various wavelengths.

Four lasers are paired together

Once we have understanding, we start fabricating the chip, which is very small, only half a millimeter wide & ~5mm long, and that will emit light between 2–3 watts, very strong for the laser of this size. This chip is then placed on a cooling device, which creates the first optics component. The laser module can be created by building up from there. Then, four of them, or possibly more, are combined in order to increase the power and capabilities. This beam head combines all lasers into a single beam that will create the powder spot.

The technology can be scaled up with the help of the beam heads. It is possible to use four beam heads with four lasers each, arranged in pairs, and each set to a different wavelength. The machine is also large. This is a perfect setup for industrial use. These lasers can theoretically melt any thermoplastic. Right now we use all materials available for 3D Printing but we are confident as we grow that we will also be able in the future to print with materials that others cannot.

3DM: What are the advantages of this unique 3DM technology?

The wide variety of materials and applications are just a few of the benefits. I’ll mention notably higher printing speed, lower costs and an open platform. We can guarantee the mechanical properties even if we don’t have all of that because we can see what the wavelengths do and we can make sure that the part we print has the properties we want. We can also guarantee properties along the Z-axis because the part is isotropic.

Precision is another key benefit, as laser absorption efficiency directly affects the print resolution. You can only change the intensity with CO2 lasers. This will affect the selectivity, but the laser won’t be as reactive. We can adjust directly to the optimal wavelength for optimized melt, resulting in finer details and better surface finishes.

Inside a beam-head

Last but not least, the fact that this technology can be scaled up is a major advantage. With our lasers again, the more you have, the better the speed and the resolution. Our beam heads were designed to work with more lasers, thanks to the parallel laser technique. They also produce a better outcome because in SLS 3D-printing the laser has the most impact. The second thing that is important is heat management. Again, with the beam heads we can add heaters in between the Lasers and heat up the powder right in the middle.

3DN: What are the steps to scale up additive production? What’s stopping the current spread? What are your plans to address this issue?

SLS, as I said earlier, is one AM technology that can be scaled to production. Our solution is even more unique, thanks to its many other properties. But one thing I did not talk about enough is material cost and we understand that concern on the manufacturer’s side. In fact, in order to deal with this issue we have adopted a policy that is open and we work closely together with material manufacturers to achieve that openness. Materials are very flexible, and we do what’s best for our customers in terms of production volume and application. This is a key way we work towards higher volumes for users. Moreover, the newer companies are more likely to be able to do this than older ones. They may already be doing more prototyping and less mass production.

We are now targeting all markets that would benefit from high-volume production, using SLS and 3D printing. Our solution is perfect for industries such as electronics and consumer products, but it can be used in any sector where supply chain or customization issues are a concern. This is particularly true in sectors where customization is highly valued.

solutions from 3dm

3DM’s full solution

Last words from 3DN to our readers

Right now, we have two main messages. We are nearing the commercialization of our technology. Expect to hear more about it soon. We are currently working with several industry players that will be beta users or early birds of the technology. However, we would like to work with more. To learn more, you can contact us HERE.

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*All Photo Credits: 3DM