Quantica develops multi-material 3D printer

In the first half of this story on the German 3D printing company Quantica I wrote about the new NovoJet printhead that it has developed. For this second half I’m going to cover Quantica’s efforts to develop its own printer plus some of the applications that can benefit from this.

Quantica has 3D-printed this denture sample to demonstrate its T1 printer.

Quantica has identified two specific advantages that it can offer. The first of these, which I’ve already covered, is the new printhead and specifically its ability to jet very high viscosity materials. 

The experience of developing this printhead, plus the reality of funding it, led the company to rethink its business model. Now Quantica is working with partners from industry who can fund research into their particular applications. CTO Ramon Borrell explains: “One of our applications is dentures. It’s a very high value part. They cannot be printed to the right level of quality right now. Some are reasonably good but not enough.”

The first large project is to print dental prosthetics, though Quantica won’t yet say who the partner is for this other than it’s a well-established large company in the dental prosthetics field. Borrell says there are different applications within this from full prosthetics to partial prosthetics and individual teeth. 

He accepts that there are other 3D printers already aimed at this market but points out that they have to use materials that have been adapted for 3D printing and that this involves some compromise so that the materials don’t have the same properties as for conventional manufacture. He explains that the Quantica printhead has been specifically designed to handle high viscosity functional materials, saying: “We can jet exactly the same materials they use now without any change so there’s no development of new materials and no qualification of new materials.” 

He says that the materials are key to the success of the project, adding: “Our dentures are expected to last up to seven years in continuous use.” He says that’s possible to print a whole denture in three hours, which is considerably cheaper and quicker than conventional methods.

T1 Pro 3D printer

The second advantage that Quantica is working on is the ability to print multiple materials side by side. One of the issues with current 3D printers is that they are mostly limited to printing just one material at a time. However, part of the promise of 3D printing is that we can rethink how we design parts and the way we manufacture them, and can print several components as one complete sub assembly. But the more complex such assemblies, the more materials will be needed in order to print them as one unit.

Several companies have claimed to have developed printers capable of jetting different materials, but these are usually limited to a build material plus a support material, or to multiple colours of a similar material and are mainly of use for prototypes. 

The Quantica machines will be able to print a range of functional materials, such as conductive, resistive, insulator, resist, solder mask, and even semiconductor materials. Borrell says: “It depends on the imagination of the device designer. Embedding some of those in other parts during manufacturing with 3D printing is specially interesting, for instance, connectors with sensing capabilities, or full custom connectors.”

For now, Quantica has developed a 3D printer, called the T1 Pro, that’s capable of printing multiple high performance SLA/DLP resins that it says can produce multi-colored, multi strength and multi functional 3D objects as one print job. 

Quantica has developed this T1 Pro 3D printer

This is mainly being used as an application and material development printer for researchers and industrial R&D teams targeting extreme viscosity multi-material applications. As such it is being offered to a limited number of qualified researchers and R&D departments. 

Claus Moseholm, CEO of Quantica, has stated: “Inkjet has long been adopted for traditional industrial printing of 2D applications. Our ambition is also to deploy the technology in high volume applications, where it adds meaningful value. To be a platform for many players to produce meaningfully, we want the right partners to be involved in developing the toolbox, and we are looking for more industrial partners to explore this”.

The Quantica team has already proven the technology with printed combinations of Class II medical device materials approved for permanent in-mouth use. And, as mentioned, Quantica is working to develop a full 3D printing system complete with materials, software and user friendly interfaces for manufacturing of permanent dental applications combining up to six materials.

Quantica is also working on a second printer, the T2, which will have up to six heads and is designed for materials and application development. Borrell says: “We are designing the high volume production machines now and will have the first prototype this summer and will launch the machines at Formnext 2024. We will show the T2, which is an evolution of the T1, at this year’s Formnext.” 

The first production machine will be the T3, scheduled for Formnext 2024. This is a desktop 3D printer designed to work in an office environment. It can be optimised for different applications, with the first model targeted at the dental market. It has a build area of 200 x 100 x 200mm.

Quantica is also open to selling its machine to other OEMs. Borrell says: “At the moment we accept small contracts for evaluation of materials. We validate materials, jetting optimisation and print trials, for both printing and prototyping. We have to charge for this because the demand is overwhelming.” He adds: ”Some of this might end up being a vertically integrated collaboration. For others we could send them a print module and the electronics and they could integrate it themselves. That’s especially true for 2D applications like textiles where the integration with the hardware is quite complicated.”

He says that another potential market is with companies that are already 3D printing parts but are looking for an approach that will reduce the amount of post-processing required, especially if that’s something manual such as clearing the powder bed or cleaning the parts. Quantica can use water-soluble support materials to reduce the post processing steps.

Quantica has developed some of its own software but mostly expects to integrate this with existing platforms. Borrel says: “We don’t have a slicer so we expect to integrate with others. But we would like to do that in the future.” However, he notes: “The partners have their own workflow. They know their business and they have a go-to-market structure so we don’t have to invest in anything that is not core to the printing.”

Further applications

Quantica is also looking for applications that require materials with large particles of up to 30 microns to take advantage of the large nozzles which can produce large drops, which would be useful for applications such as ceramic tiles.

Ramon Borrell, CTO for Quantica, here at InPrint 2022

He says: “We have companies asking for recyclable thermoplastics. We looked at it and can’t do it yet but are looking at it. We have a solution for indirect printing to recyclable thermoplastics through a partner.” This involves creating a mould and injecting the thermoplastics into the mould, though the process destroys the mould. Borrell notes that thermoplastics are cheap to produce and so there are lots of potential applications, including in 2D, such as direct-to-garment, though Quantica’s interest is strictly 3D printing. He points out that it could be used for textured decoration of items such as shoes and hats to enhance fabrics. Other potential markets include jewellery, metal and ceramics.

Borrel says: “We have interest from sports companies to print shoes and not just the insoles that everyone is doing but the whole shoe.” This could lead to fully customised shoes for elite athletes. He says: “Our machines can print up to six different materials and we could add more.”

He says: “The shoes might start with something relatively simple like the insole but the whole shoe is the end game.” He accepts this might take up to three years to develop, largely because it means developing a new transport platform. He adds: “The textiles is most likely going to be developed by someone else with our printheads.”

For now, Quantica is testing different materials for potential customers. Borrell says: “We can jet very high viscosity and high particle load. But they need to be adjusted for elasticity and they must be Newtonian and pixotropic.

He says that Quantica has had problems with some materials that had a high particle load but poor dispersion because the particles tend to agglomerate and this makes them difficult to jet. He adds: “We have some materials that gel very fast or cure quickly.”

Quantica is also looking at printing metals and ceramics. Borrell says that the printheads are able to jet fluids with much higher concentrations of active materials in the carrier fluid than  alternative printers, which reduces the complexity of the process. He adds: “We don’t have many fluids like this in our catalogue at the moment but we are still assessing which partners to choose but there is huge interest from a number of companies.”

This is clearly a technology that’s worth keeping an eye on, both for anyone involved in 3D printing or for industrial printing, given the range of functional materials that Quantica is able to jet. Borrell has described the technology at several conferences, including most recently the Industrial Print Integration conference, which I will cover in more detail later this month.

In addition, this year’s Formnext show in Germany in November should give us all a practical chance to look at the printer and printheads that Quantica is working on. In the meantime, you can find more information from quantica3d.com.

…with a little help from my friends

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