How MetShape Indirect AM uses “LMM” for medical 3D printing and more.

Founded in 2019, WithShape turned off stealth mode when she got a start-up financing from AM Ventures. The fundraiser was the subject of major hype as it was AM Ventures’ first public announcement since the company opened. venture capital fund of 100 million euros Further support AM companies.

The story goes that MetShape’s journey began with High School Pforzheim as part of a project aimed at recycling magnets. Although the results were not as expected, the project revealed the potential of the technology MML – the production process used in the project – for the production of high-precision metal parts with very good surfaces.

Today, MetShape operates as a 3D printing service provider in the industry, and among the wide range of service providers that the industry abounds, MetShape is truly one of a kind.

The company is one of the few companies to date that has dedicated its core business to providing services with a single production process: lithography metal fabrication (LMM) lithography-based metal fabrication). the LMM process is developed by Incus GmbHa spin-off from Lithoz, while MetShape is a spin-off from the Institute for Precious Metals and Technology at the University of Pforzheim.

We specialize in the production of 3D printed metal components using LMM technology and have become experts in sintering. In addition to the production of prototypes and small series, we provide a complete application development service and develop new materials for sinter-based AM. This qualifies us as a specialist in the industrial production of small and micro high-precision metal components. “, declares from the beginning Mike SchimmelpfennigBusiness Developer at MetShape.

Mike SchimmelpfennigBusiness Developer at MetShape

This heat post-processing expertise is crucial here, as the heat treatment process is well known in manufacturing processes, but its use in AM processes has not always been successful. To recognize the potential of this manufacturing step for MetShape, it is essential to understand why LMM technology is described as an indirect AM process.

LMM, an indirect approach to AM

Lithography Metal Fabrication (LMM) is a manufacturing process that creates advanced metal models, prototypes and production parts according to the principle of photopolymerizationwherein the metal powder is homogeneously dispersed in a photoresist and polymerized selectively by exposure to light.

What gives this manufacturing process its indirect name is therefore a two-step process:

In the first step, the green part is printed from a photopolymer binder system heavily loaded with metal powder. Second, the green part is unlocked and sintered. This means that the polymers, which are only needed as a temporary binder for printing purposes, are then removed by solvent or heat and the resulting “brown compact” is then sintered at a high temperature to fuse the powder particles together.

Accurate printing of green parts is essential to producing a fully functional part, but it is the sintering process that determines whether that part is dimensionally stable and of high quality. That is why we attach great importance to the sintering process and have become experts in this field. » explains Schimmelpfennig.

According to Incus GmbHan industrial 3D printer using this approach transforms 3D files into prototypes and small-scale production of components in MIM (metal injection molding) quality, a production process that guarantees this quality, including function resolution. , superior surface aesthetics and mechanical properties for part sizes <200 grams.

We are convinced of the possibilities and the many advantages of LMM technology and therefore see great potential for many industrial applications. In addition, we can provide exceptional expertise as we have been actively involved in the technology development process within our network of partners.

In the future, our unique know-how in debonding and sintering technology, which is the basic knowledge in all indirect additive manufacturing processes, provides the ideal basis for us to expand our technology portfolio to the production of precise metal components the company representative added.

Applications powered by the LMM process

The fields of medicine and research were the first industries where we discovered MetShape’s expertise. As a reminder, the company has supported the research work of the CIC nanoGUNE – the Basque cooperative research center in nanosciences – by printing a high-precision virus model in 3D.

It should be noted that in medical applications, small and micro metal components are often manufactured with high precision, which can be achieved with the sintering additive process – components that can be produced in small to medium annual production quantities (up to 10,000). ).

The correct use of additive manufacturing technologies is linked to certain characteristics and limitations of the components that many medical technology products meet, as they often require complex geometries, high individualization and precision generally associated with low production volumes. In addition, metal parts used in medical technology are sometimes difficult to machine. This combination provides a perfect field of application for LMM technology and the applications for which the LMM process is suitable are numerous. AM can be used by sintering with LMM technology to manufacture complex and filigree tools and instruments, individual implants and even wires can be functionally printed. I would also like to point out that there are several applications that cannot be produced with the same quality and precision in any other way. We also print many prototypes for companies that develop surgical instruments, tools or even implants. The great potential and uniqueness of our technology is confirmed by the fact that we have been approached by several partners for the same part because they have not found another supplier who can produce the requested part. says Schimmelpfennig.

When asked whether the LMM process offers more opportunities for the medical sector than for any other vertical industry, Schimmelpfennig recalls that the use of 3D printing naturally depends mainly on the openness of companies to new technologies. He also adds that in addition to medical applications, LMM technology could also be suitable for other sectors such as jewelry, mobility and security, as well as for high-frequency technology.

What is the next step for the company?

LMM technology is arguably the only AM process currently used by MetShape. In the future, however, we can expect the company to start exploiting other AM technologies that will be based on sintering technology. ” These technologies offer many possibilities and make it possible to obtain accurate results that direct AM processes cannot achieve, for example due to the staircase effect. The great thing about sinter-based technologies is that they all follow the same pattern » concludes the speaker.

This interview originally appeared in the issue of May/June from 3D ADEPT Mag.

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