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Tales of Saigon

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Dror Danai speaks at a RAPID+TCT additive manufacturing conference.

Many startups experience a defining moment in their development, a moment whose outcome can have profound implications that go far beyond the survival of the business. It could be the launch of a new line of products or a service. It may be the acquisition of a competing company or, for those operating at the cutting edge of technology, the introduction of breakthrough technology that the buying public has yet to fully approve.

Share the dream

This was the case for Dror Danai and his former employer, Objet. A member of the management team, Danai was responsible for the business development of the famous manufacturer of 3D printers, which will one day merge with Stratasys. Yet that future event seemed extremely unlikely on October 7, 2002, the day he met footwear giant Adidas at the Caravelle Saigon Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City.

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XJet recently completed the historic sale of its first Carmel 1400M direct metal machine to Azoth in the United States.

“It took us several months to organize this meeting, as it included senior members of Adidas’ leadership team and almost all of their global suppliers,” Danai said. “My message was a dream I’ve had since before Objet was founded, that wherever you design shoes, whether it’s Herzogenaurach, Germany or Portland, Oregon, there’s no longer a need to carry shoes. people from all over the world to manufacturing sites in the Far East.Instead, suppliers and designers could exchange files over the internet and 3D print prototypes without the need for travel, tooling or long development cycles. It promised to completely redefine the prototyping process for shoemakers.”

His dream was well received. Adidas suppliers have placed fourteen purchase orders for Objet 3D printers in a matter of months. This led to further investment in what was then a very small business. The cash injection didn’t come too soon – Danai noted that Objet was “running on steam” at the time and would have been forced to shut down.

Luckily, this also saved the cobblers. When the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) virus hit parts of Asia the following year and air travel was subsequently banned, those who had invested in Objet 3D printers were able to continue designing, prototyping and launch new shoes. “I even got permission to create a joint Adidas and Objet brochure, the first and only of its kind,” Danai said.

The view through the window

Danai’s dream of changing the way manufacturers prototype their products had a happy, albeit bittersweet, ending. Every working day, he gazes out the window of his office in Rehovot, Israel, the place where he once worked with so many of his friends and colleagues. For the past ten years the sign outside has listed Stratasys rather than Objet, but this is the same place he spent years working to build a successful business.

He also works with many of the same people. Beginning in 2014, Danai held the position of Business Manager for another newcomer to the 3D printing space, XJet Ltd. With him, Hanan Gothait, the founder and CEO of Objet and XJet, as well as chief scientist Ph.D (physics) Eli Kritchman “a true inventor of everything” and Ph.D. (Chemistry) Eduardo Napadensky, ” Objet’s first employee and who recently became XJet’s Vice President of Research and Development.”

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An example of a stainless steel part produced using nanoparticle jetting on the Carmel 1400M metal additive manufacturing system. (All photos courtesy of XJet)

“There are many more who were either with Objet early on or came here soon after,” Danai said. “Some call us Team A, in that we all heard our leader Hanan’s initial call and helped create a similar team many years later.”

Ironically, XJet had no plans to become a 3D printing company when it first opened, and neither was Danai there at the time. The original goal was to produce solar panels using a proprietary process that projects copper and silver pathways onto a polymer substrate. Unfortunately, the Chinese government began subsidizing competing manufacturers soon after XJet made its first sales – in China, of course – making the young company’s business model much less attractive. Danai said, “I got a phone call shortly after. ‘We need your help. We return to additive manufacturing. So I went.

Nevermind

Danai received a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering from Tel Aviv University, followed by a master’s degree in business administration. But his passion is mathematics, and it shows. When explaining his company’s 3D printing technology, he uses the basic volumetric formula r3 (cubed spherical radius) to describe how many of XJet’s proprietary nanoparticles can fit into just one of the metal grains used in laser fusion on powder bed (LPBF) or bonded metal deposition. (BMD).

The answer? Hundreds of thousands, a figure that Danai says gives XJet a significant advantage in parts accuracy and feature definition. It also eliminates the “messy big box of powder” common to many AM technologies. This is because XJet suspends its nanoparticles in a liquid which is mostly water with a small amount of adhesive binder. Similar to building a fine sandcastle, this mixture is thrown onto a construction platform, where the binder holds everything together until the “green part” can be sent to a sintering oven.

Danai explained that because the particles are much smaller than those used in competing systems, the amount of shrinkage during sintering is proportionally smaller, only 14.5% compared to the 20% or more seen in other processes. . And since XJet prints a green part rather than building a molten metal part with a laser or electron beam, there are none of the non-isotropic internal stresses generated during a thermal printing process. “In addition, the layer thickness is much smaller, which gives the parts a better appearance, smooth surface and density,” he said. “This last attribute is quite important, as it improves the mechanical properties of the component, especially in the Z axis or the vertical direction. It’s almost like printing with the particles found in nature. In addition, the sintering temperature is significantly lower than that used by binder jetting technologies and therefore allows the creation of the smallest possible features without the risk of deformation.

Print firsts

Danai explained that while the XJet process is similar to PolyJet (the technology behind Objet and a term Danai himself coined during a presentation early in the company’s history), it does not compete Stratasys’ line of Connex 3D printers. For starters, XJet produces metal and ceramic parts, not polymer. And as already stated, the particles are much smaller, which raises the bar for part accuracy across the entire 3D printing spectrum.

“It is somewhat ironic that we have seen three major developments in printing technology in each of the past three decades, all from the same team here in Israel and all led by the same CEO,” Danai said. “The first of these was large format printing from a company that Hanan Gothait founded in the late 80s and eventually became part of Hewlett Packard. Much of this team later formed Objet and, as I explained earlier, came to XJet after the Stratasys merger. So, three very different technologies, but all based on our expertise in the field of inkjet.

This expertise is bearing fruit. During its exhibit at RAPID+ TCT 2021, XJet sold its first Carmel 1400M direct metal machine to Azoth, a subcontractor in Ann Arbor, Michigan producing parts for the automotive and medical industries, among others. Danai was also quick to point out that this wasn’t XJet’s first sale – the company has been offering ceramic 3D printers for several years now – but due to technical constraints, metal printers were more difficult and have took longer to develop.

For example, the ink delivery system, or IDS, had to be revamped, an effort that required “a few dozen different components out of the many thousands needed to build a printer”. And the furnace, although colder than that used for ceramic sintering, requires the introduction of inert gas to prevent oxidation of the metal. “We have also hired our first salesperson for North America, who will be based in the United States,” Danai said.

T-shirts and Thailand

It’s certainly an exciting time for Danai and his colleagues at XJet. He calls it “the dawn of a new era”, although he freely admits that there is much more to this era than NanoParticle Jetting. As with his dream of revolutionizing the prototyping process for shoemakers and other manufacturers, Danai believes 3D printing as a whole will revolutionize everything. Indeed, the ability to manufacture products locally will not only shorten global supply chains and reduce reliance on foreign suppliers, but will dramatically increase the rate at which companies can develop new products.

“If I have to sum it up in one sentence, 3D printing makes it possible to move from a manufacturing and distribution philosophy to a distribution and manufacturing philosophy,” Danai said. “It will fundamentally change our society and our ways of doing business.”

He illustrated this last point with a simple example: T-shirts. A manufacturer looking to produce and distribute millions of t-shirts would naturally want to source from the country with the lowest labor cost and then ship these basic items all over the world. But by installing t-shirt machines in Phoenix and Fort Worth, Munich and Montreal, we can significantly reduce the waste and pollution associated with our current supply chain model. Now change the term “t-shirt maker” to “3D printer”. This is Danai’s vision.

“The philosophy in the past was to make everything in China and when China becomes too expensive, then move production to Thailand or Vietnam,” he added. “It was perfectly acceptable to manufacture in one place and distribute products around the world, regardless of what it does to our planet and the impact it will have on our grandchildren. It is high time that we Let’s change this outdated way of thinking.