Xerox Previews 3D Metal Printer Prototype for Manufacturing

Xerox liquid-metal 3D printer prototype.

Drawing upon decades of its experience in printing and materials science, Xerox says it’s developing new 3D printing technologies and will begin introducing them to the market in 2020. To demonstrate its commitment, Xerox previewed its new liquid-metal 3D printer prototype at the Formnext conference held this week in Germany.

Xerox’s 3D metal printer protoype may also be based on technology developed by 3D-printer developer Vader Systems, which it acquired earlier this year.

Xerox Chief Technology Officer Naresh Shanker explained: “We’ve been testing our 3D technology with the Department of Defense and NASA to design some of the most complex parts in the world. 3D printing is going to transform manufacturing, and Xerox is going to drive that change.”

Xerox notes that 3D printing has been around for years, used for rapid prototyping, modeling, and in education. What’s changed? “The costs have plummeted; the capabilities of the hardware and software are advancing exponentially; and innovations in materials science now enable manufacturers to print end-use components at scale with the quality standards they demand,” Forrester Vice President, Emerging Technology Research, Carlton Doty, writes in his October 2018 research report, Emerging Technology Spotlight: Additive Manufacturing.

Xerox aims to disrupt traditional manufacturing through its 3D liquid-metal technology combined with AI-based design software. “By pairing these two technologies, manufacturers will be able to design and fabricate parts that meet their structural and cost requirements on the first try,” said Shanker.

To meet business needs for on-demand products, Xerox 3D printing technology uses liquid-metal printing to decrease production time from days to hours. And Xerox 3D metal printers use off-the-shelf alloys,the same alloys used in traditional manufacturing, allowing manufacturers to design parts using materials they already know. This means parts are denser, faster to make and less expensive than those made with metal powders.

The firm says that with on-demand 3D printing, companies will no longer have to buy parts on a decades-long timeline. For example, if a company orders an airplane that lasts for 30 years, they also need to purchase hundreds, if not thousands, of spare parts. “You would have to pay to store these spare parts,” says Dr. Bryony Core, senior technology analyst at IDTechEx. “This leads to a waste of time, money, and effort.” On-demand 3D printing can significantly reduce inventory and storage costs.

Xerox’s AI-based 3D software is also said to integrate all steps of fabrication from design to manufacturing planning and performance analysis, allowing for consistent part quality and customization.

Liquid metal double cone

An item printed by Xerox using liquid metal technology.

“Using 3D printing to make unusual geometric parts out of lightweight materials, like high performance polymers, or composite materials, means you can offer an improved product,” says Core. In the auto industry, for instance, the technology can allow auto makers to replace traditional parts with lighter-weight versions and reduce the weight of vehicles. That can substantially lower fuel costs and carbon emissions over the lifetime of a car.

“We are about to enter the most disruptive era in manufacturing since the Industrial Revolution, thanks to additive manufacturing,” writes Doty.

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