XJet CBO Dror Danai: “We literally failed with metal, but now we’re about to start racing”


“Now that we’re happy, it’s time to tell the real story.”

Like the second day of FAST + TCT ends, beverage carts are rolled out, food is served, and business manager Dror Danai begins to honestly report on the development of by XJet metal 3D printing technology.

Metal was on the agenda for the XJet team – most of whom had worked together years earlier at Objet – as early as 2016. As early as Formnext 2017, the company was exhibiting its Carmel 1400 systems at trade shows and talking about the potential Nanoparticle Jetting. with metallic materials, then gradually it began to calm down, with the company’s ceramic offering being pushed forward instead.

That wasn’t the plan. The ceramic adventure was an opportunity, XJet recognizing that the materials were easier to buy and easier to cut into nanoparticles, but it was also a necessity.

“We literally failed to make metal,” Danai told TCT, “but we wanted to go to market. To build a business, to build an installed base, a logistics team and operations, you have to have customers. It was easier to fill it with ceramic, which was never strategically originally. [In 2016]we said, you know what, let’s try to do [ceramics] and within a year we had a product and we had an open house in Youngstown, Ohio. Only management was aware of this. You don’t want to talk about your plan B.

Instead of discussing market-ready metals technology, talking about Plan B has been exactly what XJet has been doing for the intervening years. While one team within XJet persevered in processing metal materials on XJet’s Carmel 1400M platform, another team rushed to market. With ceramics this team was free from the risk of oxidation, they appreciated the fragility of the materials which allowed them to be cut into nanoparticles, the ceramic also supported less weight and was therefore easier to match with the soluble support material of XJet.

This gave XJet a way into the market, with companies like KU Leuven, Syqe Medical, AB Universal, University of Delaware, Marvel Medtech, Straumann, MTC and more recently Spyros Panopoulos Automotive (SPA) adopting technology. Since this adoption, XJet has seen its technology applied to medical applications, dental parts and, in the case of SPA, a TCT Award nominated engine piston. According to Danai, this is “design for additive manufacturing at its finest,” with stress analysis making it easy to lay material only in areas where the part will be exposed to stress.

But it hasn’t always been easy on the ceramic side either. With innovative new technology in the field, starting problems were also likely. During the COVID-19 pandemic, however, XJet had the opportunity to address these issues as customer machine usage slowed. Identifying the ten most painful points, XJet’s ceramic team tackled each one at once over a 15 month period.

“We perfected everything and now our ceramic system carriers are buying their second – in fact, we are buying their third machine. So it’s now robust,” says Danai. “There are no answers at the end of the book. [With] powder bed fusion, EOS did it 20 years ago, so SLM [Solutions] can copy some of the answers – some of the patents are there. We had no one to do it. We have created 79 patents over the years because everything we have created; we were the only ones. Nobody does a direct jet, neither in metals nor in ceramics.

Now XJet can say it is doing both because the downtime during the pandemic has also facilitated significant progress to be made with metals.

“Metal, we couldn’t be a part. And I’m talking about the part that will be the best in the world, the part that will have all the details, that won’t take long to process, that will be [compatible] with a soluble carrier, all those attributes that we promised six years ago,” says Danai. “We just worked very hard. We tried a different approach. I can’t give all the details – some because I have no idea and some I have an idea but it’s very confidential.

“It also took 15 months and in August [2021]Hanan [Gothait, then the CEO] comes up to me and says, “We’re almost there. It’s doable. I said, ‘I’m not selling it unless it really works this time. I can’t, people know me in the industry. He said, ‘look, it’s the chicken and the egg. If you don’t bring a customer to whom you agree to sell, we will never be able to perfect it.

At the end of this conversation, looking for a Midwest-based customer who would be interested in XJet’s metal 3D printing offering, would be willing to take the first installation, and would host an open house to showcase the machine before RAPID+TCT 2022 has started. In the fall, Danai met Mattia Forgiarini, a Michigan-based Azoth engineer, struck up an immediate relationship, and 24 hours later was in talks with company management about the first sale of a Carmel 1400M system.

However, XJet had to pass a test first. Azoth sent ten STL files of parts that they could not print on any other metal additive technology. When XJet sent over eight successful draws, Azoth was ready to sign the contract that would secure the purchase. Next, the Azoth team visited XJet in Tel Aviv, with Forgiarini spending Monday through Thursday operating the Carmel 1400M machine and inspecting the printed parts. Feedback was good.

On Friday, Danai took Forgiarini on a trip to the Dead Sea and as they floated on the water, the latter turned to the former and explained why Nanoparticle Jetting metal is able to produce parts with such quality and such detail.

“Stainless steel has a melting point of around 1400°C to 1450°C. Most systems work in that range,” Danai explains, scribbling 1380°C on the Y-axis of a graph that he illustrates, before marking the particle sizes on the X axis. “Some of them are 40 microns, 50 microns, 60 microns or even 100. If you take this particle, [1380°C] that’s what it takes to be sintered, but the story gets a bit more interesting when you go down [in micron size]. You need less energy and less temperature to sinter. When we go to a micron, instead of 1380, we are at 1200, which means that we are making very, very small lines.

At this point, Danai grabs some metal pieces on display at the booth, including one with a small hole in it.

“I don’t know if you can even see the little hole here, a 20 micron hole. Most tech won’t go there. Because what happens is that when you get very close to the melting point, it may close or distort. If you have very small features, they are likely to change their geometry. We’re 200 degrees from the melting point [with stainless steel]this allows us to go much, much lower in functionality, so we can duplicate small holes [and integrate] little features that no one else can do.

With the parts on the table and the capabilities of XJet’s metal 3D printing technology explained, the conversation turned to applications. Healthcare components are considered the “primary application” – due to their use and Carmel 1400M’s compatibility with 316L stainless steel – but Azoth also serves a host of automotive and industrial companies that may have a some leeway to use the technology later. line. Whatever the industry, XJet targets small to medium production volumes.

“I think people fantasize when it comes to millions,” Danai says. “AM is not the answer. When it’s 100,000, maybe. 50,000, of course. If you need to make 50,000 [small parts], I can do them in a few months, very easy. I can make 1,000 per tray, 2,000 per day, and 50,000 per month. With a small game, maybe I can make even half a million a year, but for bigger games, probably only 50,000 or 60,000. This is the right place. Production of small parts because we are in very small particles, very small layers and very far from [melting temperature]we can have a much higher level of predictability and repeatability.

Azoth began operating the Carmel 1400M machine on May 2n/a and before May 17e, XJet had a booth full of 3D printed metal parts at RAPID+TCT. The company delivered the machine in less than six months from the signing of the contract and informs potential buyers of a six-month lead time for new orders as long as the machine is available in limited volumes. A ramp-up will take place later this year, with XJet setting things up at management level in preparation.

Yair Alcobi, with a background in semiconductors, was named CEO last month, with co-founder Hanan Gothait assuming the role of chairman. Orit Tesler Levy, another with a background in semiconductors, joined as chief financial officer, while Andy Middleton – formerly of Stratasys – was named chief commercial officer for Central Europe in January. Avi Cohen was named Executive Chairman last year – and was present at RAPID+ TCT – and the company has also recruited Harry Danford – who has sales experience at ExOne, AddUp and Uniformity Labs, started as VP of sales in North America in May.

“We are moving, we are ready,” Danai said. “If we weren’t ready, we wouldn’t appoint someone from semiconductors as CEO, we wouldn’t take on a manager who ran Stratasys in Europe. Now the metal will still go slowly, the production of this series is still manual. Mass production starts towards Formnext – by Formnext we will start to increase, but the demand will also increase. We want to keep it in Germany, USA, later this year maybe UK, maybe Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou, so we’re limiting it to very specific places, certain applications – in particular healthcare and automotive. We already know where the next machines are going this year. For next year we are already sourcing the components – we had huge supply chain challenges so to overcome these we ordered now based on the success of the open day [at Azoth].

“It’s like going from kindergarten to elementary school. We’re not in high school yet, we’re more conservative and want to make sure the technology works. We crawl, then we try to walk, then we fail, then we walk again, and finally we run. We are in the phase where we are no longer crawling, we are walking very steadily and we are about to start running.

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