Dimatix targets 3D printing

Fujifilm’s Dimatix printhead subsidiary has introduced a new inkjet head, the Starfire SG1024 L3F, which is specifically aimed at additive manufacturing, in particular sand casting and metal binder jetting.

Dimatix has previously developed a number of variants within its Starfire range of printheads for various industrial print applications, such as ceramic or textile printing, so it was perhaps inevitable that the company would turn its attention to additive manufacturing. 

Ron Gilboa, senior marketing manager at Fujifilm Dimatix, told me: “The opportunity for inkjet technology in 3D printing is pretty diverse in the sense that you can jet materials that will become the final product like polymers and then you cure them with UV. And in certain cases you are doing binder jetting where you are jetting a binder onto powder of some sorts so there is a pretty broad set of applications and market segments that can benefit from that.”

For this particular L3F printhead, Dimatix has targeted two applications within the wider binder jetting approach, sand casting and metal binder jetting. Sand casting is a form of making moulds for a variety of different industrial uses. Additive manufacturing has proved to be a particularly quick and cost effective way of producing such moulds, which can simply be printed from a CAD file without the need to make an intermediate pattern. Equally, metal binder jetting is typically used for producing end use parts and components. In both cases the inkjet head is only jetting the binder fluid that will be used to hold the powdered material together; the material that provides the functionality is spread across the print bed separately.

The main target was to be able to jet Furan, which is a particularly aggressive binder fluid that’s widely used in additive manufacturing sand casting. As Gilboa notes: “Typically the environment where you jet is sandy and in addition you have a very aggressive material and you want to make sure that the head stays alive long enough to justify its ROI.”

The basic design of the Starfire heads is suitable for both single pass and scanning applications. As the name implies, there are 1024 nozzles though some variants have two channels with 512 nozzles. However, the new L3F printhead has a single channel with all 1024 nozzles and the standard 400 dpi resolution common to this series. Naturally, it makes use of Fujifilm’s excellent Redijet ink recirculation technology, which recirculates the fluid down to the nozzle plate level. 

Mike Wozny, senior product manager for Fujifilm Dimatix, explains: “We have taken a lot of the core technology built into the SG. We saw some of the challenges that fluid was presenting to us and that’s where we focussed our development team, on what that fluid was doing to compromise the useful life of the printhead. The changes are focussed on one specific area of the printhead, the collar area. The fluid is very challenging and what we did is we minimised the exposure of that fluid to our printheads in terms of the channels within the printhead and then we also increased the actual surface area of the bonding of the printhead.”

The L3F has the usual print width of 64.96mm of the 1024 series. It has a firing frequency of up to 20kHz. In theory it can handle fluid ranging from 8-20cP viscosity though Dimatix recommends 10-14cP. It has an integrated thermal transfer heater and an operating temperature range of up to 50ºC. It will take UV, aqueous and organic solvent fluids.

It has a native drop size of 80pl but uses Fujifilm’s VersaDrop greyscale feature to produce drops up to 200pl. It’s worth noting that Fujifilm usually produces other variants with different drop sizes so it seems likely that we will see further announcements in this area from Fujifilm. 

Wozny adds: “We made the decision a few years ago to invest in this segment of the market. We identified some key partners that we worked with around the world. Even though the market has matured there’s still a lot of development going on by the OEMs so the way some people treat sand casting in Europe is different, others are using different approach in Asia and that’s different from what we’re doing in North America. Our partners did some evaluation on their end and they did some field testing for us so we’ve already got many many hours of tests in the field in different geographic locations around the world.”

Wozny says that Dimatix is also exploring other more difficult fluids: “Now we have this core architecture so we are looking at whether we can deploy it with other areas, so we are seeing what other fluids are challenging for us.”

He points out that as well as Fujifilm, the customers themselves are also looking for printheads for different materials and that Dimatix offers test kits to enable them to do some rudimentary evaluation themselves. 

You can find further details on this printhead from fujifilm.com.


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