ExOne made is mostly known for their larger equipment, but they also make smaller gear, like the Innovent+ 3D printer.
The Innovent+ 3D printer is a bit bigger than a desktop 3D printer’s size, but it does something most desktop equipment does not do: 3D prints metal objects.
This machine uses the binder jetting approach to 3D printing in metal materials. The process uses a powder bed and an inkjet-like mechanism selectively deposits binder on the bed surface. The bed is then recoated with additional powder and a second (and subsequent) layers are executed.
When the print is complete, the green part undergoes the standard processes for first removing the binder, and then sintering the remaining metal into strong, solid condition.
ExOne explains that their recoating system is new, and uses an ultrasonic mechanism to ensure proper powder flow. This can be an issue in some other machines, where poor recoating can result in lower quality print – or even failed prints if sufficient gaps in the powder bed occur.
This new system also allows operators to more quickly change the material to a different type of powder, which in some other machines can be quite a problem.
And which metal powders can be used? It turns out that the Innovent+ can use standard PIM powders. These powders, used in powder injection moulding processes, are widely available and at relatively low cost as compared to many custom-made metal powders for 3D printing.
The resolution of the Innovent+ is pretty impressive: layer and XY axes sizes are 0.05mm. The results are pretty extraordinary, as we can see in this very tiny print:
ExOne says their system can produce results “finer than a laser.” While not the Innovent+, you can see how their process works in this video produced by the folks at “How It’s Made”:
The Innovent+’s build speed is fairly quick due to the nature of the binder jetting process. ExOne says the machine can print at “45-60 seconds per layer”, but remember that 0.05mm layers means you will have many layers to complete.
It seems that ExOne is targeting this machine at researchers, as it is what they would term an “introductory metal machine”. The Innovent+ carries a relatively low purchase price of only USD$80,000, but you’ll also need a number of other pieces in your workshop to complete the work.