Dutch Ceramic Injection Moulding producer Formatec Ceramics, based in Goirle, organised a seminar on December 13 2012 promoting the latest advances in technical ceramics, including MicroCIM, silicon nitride CIM and 3D ceramic printing. Close to 100 preregistered guests attended the seminar, which included guided tours of Formatec’s plant and product demonstrations.
Michiel de Bruijcker, Managing Director of Formatec, told Powder Injection Moulding International, “This day was our opportunity to share the latest developments in technical ceramics with Dutch industry and the interest generated by the event was greatly above expectation. The showcasing of our newest capability, 3D printing with technical ceramics, certainly caught the attention of delegates.”
After a welcome by de Bruijcker, the first speaker was Joep Brouwers, Vice Director of Brainport Development. Brouwers presented all the details about the technology region, known as ‘Brainport’, located in and around the city of Eindhoven. This region is currently listed as one of the top technology centres in the world, with its success primarily driven by an ‘Open Supply Chain’ philosophy. The local mindset between sub-supplier, supplier and OEM companies, combined with a no-nonsense mentality, has positively affected business relations.
The application of silicon nitride was illustrated with a short movie featuring a model airplane with a functioning jet-engine. The turbine wheel of the demonstration jet engine was fabricated from silicon nitride. During this part of the presentation, Formatec commented on the feedstock development for silicon nitride and the material properties, such as high fracture toughness, extreme wear resistance and great thermal shock resistance, were discussed.
Formatec explained the limited shaping capabilities of the material to-date, such as hot pressing, extrusion and grinding, however Formatec has now added the possibility of injection moulding silicon nitride so that more complex shapes can be achieved.
Current feedstock development is targeted at three visual appearances for the material, grey, dark grey and gold bronze. Such innovations, state Formatec, are attracting attention for the aesthetic as well as functional use of this material. It was stated that this is supported by the excellent finishes that can be achieved by polishing.
The seminar also paid close attention to Micro-CIM technology. A case study of a fibre optic micro connector featuring 64 holes on a surface of 2×2 mm was chosen to explain the potential of MicroCIM. Each hole is 125 micron and is directly formed in the mould cavity.
Formatec stated that the future of Micro-CIM depends not only on smaller and more precise tooling, but on an integrated strategy covering powders, tooling, injection moulding equipment and measuring technologies.
The presentation was concluded with the announcement that Formatec is a partner in the Hi-Micro EU project (High Precision Micro Production Technologies), initiated by the Technical University of Leuven. The Hi-Micro project is a three year project officially launched in October 2012 and, stated Formatec, guarantees Micro-CIM research funding for the coming years.
The final on-stage presentation was reserved for the day’s highlight, the printing of ceramics via the Digital Light Process (DLP). 3D printing, or Additive Manufacturing, covers many technologies and numerous types of materials. Formatec presented, following an in-house market study, what these technologies can mean for shaping ceramics. It was quickly concluded that printing ceramics by use of the DLP-technology could be a significant addition to Formatec’s product portfolio. Shortly after this conclusion Formatec started production with its first DLP printer, which was demonstrated during the CIM seminar.
The DLP process is based on a layer-by-layer curing of a photopolymer. This polymer is cured by light projection that shapes the product layer. A z-axis lifts the product and the curing process starts again. After the process is finished a ‘green body’ remains, similar to an injection moulded green body. This is then thermally processed via the company’s debinding and sintering systems and the final product is a fully functional ceramic body with all the typical ceramic properties.
The presentation reviewed the new shaping possibilities that this technology offers. The technology will be applied to prototype production, but it was predicted that series production will also be performed with this technology, especially for small sized, highly accurate complex shaped products.
de Bruijcker commented to Powder Injection Moulding International, “The interest at the seminar was great and the post-event reaction was very positive. Overall the audience rated this seminar with 8.4 on a scale of 1-10 and highlighted the 3D printing presentation and the guided tour through production as most interesting. I believe that Formatec presented itself as a high-tech, innovative manufacturer that is not afraid of challenges, and that we can use these challenges to become more successful.”