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Scaling up—The high potential of additive manufacturing for the ceramics industry Credit: Lithoz number of employees. The company plans to introduce a CRM system to improve its service management. Therefore, the company will provide its growing customer base the best quality of services. Homa is convinced the company will continue to grow. “Today, we are only at the beginning for the introduction of additive manufacturing systems in the ceramic sector,” says Homa. Homa believes there is a growing need for AM because of new conditions and challenges imposed on the ceramic industry. Shorter product life cycles, need for mass customization of products, and need for resource-efficient manufacturing technologies for production of small scale series and individual pieces will continue to drive demand for AM. High-tech solutions for high-tech markets The possible applications of LCM technology already are diversified, and Lithoz provides the necessary components for industry and research institutes. For example, Lithoz is developing its own material for AM of casting cores for the aviation sector. Benedikt explains, “Turbine blades are regularly used in temperature ranges that are above their melting point. One of the reasons this is possible is the presence of complex cooling channels inside the blade, which are made using casting cores. Up to date, these casting cores are produced by injection molding. But it is already clear that this approach will no longer be sufficient due to limited complexity of parts produced by this technique. Using LCM can help overcome these limitations and enables the production of geometries that cannot be manufactured with conventional technologies.” Because of its tool-free manufacturing technology, the LCM approach enables fabrication of highly complex structures and more casting cores at the same time (Figure 4). Other industries, such as the medical sector, benefit from this new production technology. Biocompatible materials, such as alumina and zirconia, are suitable because of their good mechanical properties and their bioinert behavior, especially for permanent implants. Researchers can develop completely new solutions for medical problems using LCM technology. For example, Lithoz helped develop LCM to fabricate bioresorbable ceramics as temporary implants. The body resorbs such materials and, thus, they do not require removal after the patient heals. The CeraFab system prints individual bone substitutes of tricalcium phosphate or hydroxyapatite. Figure 5 shows several bioresorbable scaffold designs. Undiscovered potential of AM The above-mentioned applications are not exhaustive in the least. “AM will be the driving force for innovation, and the ceramics industry can benefit in different ways by applying AM,” say Homa and Benedikt. Both are convinced that the real benefits of AM have yet to be fully appreciated in the minds of industry decision-makers. Homa and Benedikt say, that whether AM is used to produce prototypes, individualized parts, parts with higher functionality, or function-integrated parts, design always will begin with development goals. Decision makers need to have a broad view and understand that investing in new technology requires more than purchasing an equivalent or replacement system. The advantages of cutting-edge technology are achieved only by adopting new design rules and redesigning existing geometries. Companies considering AM must start with in-depth discussions of these technologies to understand how best to exploit the full potential of AM in their businesses. Homa and Benedikt are aware of the Figure 5. Various bioresorbable tricalcium phosphate scaffolds manufactured with the CeraFab system. scale of the task and are able to support companies to find their way through the advantages of adopting AM. Homa describes the clear goal for Lithoz as follows: “Our vision is to establish AM as a standard manufacturing technology. There should be no difference between manufacturing using conventional methods and AM—and we are on the way to implement this vision.” About the author Monika Homa is corporate communications officer at Lithoz GmbH. Contact Homa at mhoma@lithoz.com. References 1T. Wohlers, Wohlers Report 2014. Wohlers Associates, Fort Collins, Colo., 2014. n 26 www.ceramics.org | American Ceramic Society Bulletin, Vol. 95, No.3 Credit: Lithoz Figure 4. Casting cores made by the LCM process. The image shows 22 cores made on the CeraFab 8500 in 11 hours. Each core is approximately 40 x 100 mm. A small business grows globally More than 98% of Lithoz business is international, and the company has built a well-functioning distribution network in China. Lithoz is working to strengthen its international presence overall and is investing resources to build up a distribution network for the United States market. Homa explains, "In order to develop this highpotential market, we need partners with whom we act on a mutually beneficial basis. Both partners should benefit to the same extent from the opportunity that establishing our technology in the market will provide." To ensure expansion of the company, Homa seeks ceramics specialists who are dedicated to sales to support their team abroad. By the end of the year, the company plans to employ more than 30 people along the entire process chain in Austria. n


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