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Capsule summary The challenge Additive manufacturing techniques that worked well for plastics and metal are not suitable for making dense, high-strength ceramic parts. A solution for ceramics Two Viennese graduate students parlayed their doctoral research into a spin-off company specializing in development of AM specifically for ceramics. AM often is put on a level with “rapid prototyping.” This refers to the early days of AM, when the technology was used only for prototype production. The tool-less production method enabled companies to make full-function prototypes quickly and inexpensively compared to conventional prototyping methods. Even now, companies looking for an inexpensive way to make single pieces and small production runs find AM is an efficient pathway. In addition, AM is getting more and more important for the industry on larger scales, too, for mass customization and individualization of ceramic products. AM opens up limitless opportunities in terms of design and geometrical freedom, because it eliminates problems related to the demolding process, because parts are fabricated tool-free. Engineers use new design rules to create entirely new geometries that would not be possible with conventional manufacturing methods. For the first time, designers can implement highly complex geometries containing undercuts, cavities, or defined cellular structures. Thus, they are changing from production toward function-oriented designs. AM also is particularly suitable for a comprehensive integration of functions by combining different parts into one. Functional integration aims to combine as many technical functions as possible with the fewest components. Often, functional integration leads to highly complex geometries, which cannot be realized with conventional manufacturing processes. Manufacturers can save high assembly costs and produce more functional products using functional integration. Lithoz—A university spin-off Lithoz founders, Johannes Homa and Johannes Benedikt (Figure 1), have been involved with AM since 2006, when they were graduate research associates at the Vienna University of Technology (VUT) in Austria in the working group of Juergen Stampfl. At that time, no technology was commercially available for AM of ceramics. When Homa and Benedikt recognized the unique potential of AM for this class of materials, they decided to develop the technology themselves. It began with development of the material, but it soon became apparent that stateof the-art AM machines were not able to process the newly developed ceramic slurries. Thus, they also began research on new concepts for AM machines and software. The challenge was to achieve, by AM, the same density and strength achieved via conventional ceramic forming technologies. Other research groups failed at this point. After four years of intense research, the team solved a number of tenacious problems along the process chain. Finally, in 2010, they achieved, for the first time, the same material properties as with other ceramic molding methods—the proof of concept was realized! New vistas The ability to fabricate dense, high-strength parts with complex geometries allows engineers to design parts based on functional requirements rather than design systems around available parts. Homa and Benedikt already were thinking of establishing a business while conducting R&D at VUT. Encouraged by their success, they followed their vision to build up a company based on this technology. Spin-off of Lithoz from VUT finally took place in 2011. Homa assumed responsibility for commercial aspects of starting up a business, and Benedikt devoted himself to production and R&D. Lithoz benefited from jumpstart funding from various national and international programs and supporting organizations. The young team was first challenged to transfer the previously established research prototype to a series of products. The founders realized that continuous progress of their technology and production of high-quality products would be key to the company's success. Therefore, Homa and Benedikt transferred production of their LCM technology machines to the experienced, specialized engineering company Wild GmbH (Völkermarkt, Austria). The company possesses long-term expertise in mechanical engineering and specializes in manufacturing products to specific Laboratory Furnaces • Horizontal & Vertical Tube Furnaces, Single and Multi-Zone • Box Furnaces & Ashing Furnaces • Temperatures up to 1800°C • Made in the U.S.A. • Spare parts always available SmartControl Touch Screen Control System www.thermcraftinc.com • info@thermcraftinc.com +1.336.784.4800 See us at Ceramics Expo, booth #432 ACS 2016 Ad.indd 1 3/8/2016 2:05:26 PM American Ceramic Society Bulletin, Vol. 95, No. 3 | www.ceramics.org 23


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