Foxconn and Triditive team up to develop a new metal binder jetting 3D printer

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Manufacturer of 3D printers based in Spain triditive partnered with a Taiwanese electronics company foxcon develop a new metal 3D printer based on binder jetting technology.

For now, details of the unnamed system are sparse, but we do know that the two companies are currently working on an initial prototype, as well as new materials for use with the 3D printer.

Triditive’s business is centered around its patented AMCELL line of 3D printers, which includes the AMCELL 1400 and AMCELL 8300. The modular systems are based on the company’s Automated Multimaterial Deposition (AMD) technology, which combines a binder jetting module with several delta FDM modules to print metals, polymers and even fiber reinforced composites. Foxconn, on the other hand, is one of the largest electronics assemblers in the world, producing devices for the likes of Apple, sony, nintendo, Microsoftand Intel.

Triditive also collaborates with Tecnalia, the Basque Country research center, to develop custom binders for the process. According to the company, it also works closely with the German research organization Fraunhofer to select the metal powders that will be compatible with the 3D printer.

Foxconn and Triditive say the main selling points of their upcoming technology will be scalability and cost reduction, and that it will be suitable for 3D printing complex end-use metal parts.

Triditive’s AMCELL 8300 3D printer. Photo via Triditive.

What is binder jetting 3D printing?

Metal binder jetting is an inkjet 3D printing process that exploits a powder bed of metallic raw material. A high precision printhead is used to spray carefully controlled amounts of liquid binder onto the powder bed, which binds the powder into a solid layer. The bed is coated and the process repeats layer by layer until a 3D part is produced.

Since the parts are printed surrounded by unmelted powder, it is often not necessary to use support structures. Triditive also claims that any excess unmelted powder in the build chamber will be reusable, further saving on material costs.

Like any 3D printing process, binder sprayed parts must also be post-processed, especially if they are designed for end use. Components fresh out of the build chamber are in a green state, meaning they are brittle and fragile due to their high porosity. They can be sintered in a furnace to burn off the binder (debinding) and increase the density of the part, improving its mechanical properties.

Triditive and Foxconn – a curious partnership

While it makes sense for Triditive to enter the binder jetting market, Foxconn’s involvement is a bit more surprising. Foxconn has been using 3D printing for prototyping applications for decades, but has never developed a 3D printer or 3D printing materials until now, which means it is officially entering the space of additive manufacturing for the very first time.

In fact, in 2013, Foxconn CEO Terry Gou told Taiwanese media, “3D printing is a gimmick. If it’s really that good, then I’ll write my surname ‘Gou’ backwards.

He added that 3D printing was not suitable for mass production (a specialty of Foxconn) and had no commercial value.

So why the change of heart? Thanks to advances in 3D printing technology, additive processes are now more viable than ever for high-throughput production applications. As such, Foxconn likely now sees 3D printing as a viable method of automating some of its more manual manufacturing and assembly workflows, even for medium to high volumes. Binder jetting, in particular, lends itself to fast print speeds and large build volumes, so Foxconn’s batch production efforts could soon benefit from significant cost and time reductions.

Apple iPhones are among millions of electronic devices manufactured and assembled by Foxconn.  Photo via Apple.
Apple iPhones are among millions of electronic devices manufactured and assembled by Foxconn. Photo via Apple.

The big names in additive manufacturing

Every once in a while we see tech and manufacturing giants like Foxconn make an exciting investment in the 3D printing business. Just last month, Seiko Epson Corporation (Epson), a Japanese multinational electronics company specializing in 2D printing technology, has announced the launch of its first industrial-grade 3D printer. According to the company, what’s new about the machine is its unique flat-screw extrusion technology, which allows the system to 3D print a wide variety of pellet materials.

Somewhere else, Mitsubishi Electric Corporation, a leading manufacturer of electronic and electrical equipment, recently announced the launch of its own new metal 3D printing system. The upcoming AZ600 is a laser-based directed energy deposition (DED) system that will work by melting welding wires to 3D print near-net-shaped metal parts.

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The featured image shows Triditive’s AMCELL 8300 3D printer. Photo via Triditive.

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