First Look: ElemX 3D Metal Printer

Xerox’s ground-breaking liquid metal technology addresses the substantial market for high-quality, low-cost, 3D-printed aluminum parts. Liquid metal fills the immense void left by other metal 3D printers.

Xerox’s Technology

Liquid metal uses standard aluminum wire fed into a heated melting pot (with other metals on Xerox’s product roadmap). The molten aluminum flows through a nozzle that is surrounded by an electromagnetic field. The combination of pulses within the field and nozzle size determines the droplet size and jetting frequency. The droplets are directed onto the heated build plate or previous layers, where they immediately solidify.

Meanwhile, the build plate rapidly moves in the x and y axes under the droplet stream, creating the desired shape. The ElemX pauses every five layers to inspect the build. Adjustments to drop placement and volume happen automatically in the event a defect was detected.

Up Close and Operating

I visited Xerox’s 3D printing research and development facility in Cary, NC, this week, just days before the first customers were to arrive. Meeting with VP, GM Tali Rosman and her staff, I had an up-close, covers-off look at the new ElemX metal 3D printer and frank discussions of its capabilities.

Tali Rosman pointing out the ElemX Liquid Metal printer’s features

We started the tour with the bench printer on which Xerox’s engineers perform print trials and test design modifications. I could peer through an onboard camera into the print nozzle where the molten aluminum wire pools before being transformed into droplets. We discussed the printhead’s overall design, as well as the cooling and argon systems.

We then moved to the ElemX printer as it presently ships, with frame, covers, electrical, cooling and argon connections, control monitor and keyboard, and 3D printing system. Adjacent to the printer was the build plate removal cart and quenching tub. The ElemX was operating in a room on the first floor of an office building in an office park – no special rooms, safety equipment or PPEs were required.

Xerox ElemX in operation

I am watching the build with Matt Sozio, of Xerox’s Strategy & Business Development, who will be at AMUG 2021.

Xerox applied its deep knowledge of machine operation to ElemX’s design and workflow. The operator retrieves and loads the file to be printed. A series of interfaces are navigated with either the touch screen monitor, keyboard or Siemens Sinumerik automation system mounted on a pivoting arm. The reel of aluminum wire is easily accessed from the operator side as needed. ElemX monitors raw material usage and alerts the operator if insufficient material is available to start or finish the job.

The graphite nozzles, which are consumable items included in the service contract, last one or perhaps two jobs. They are easily accessed from the operator side, as are other printhead components, cooling hoses, and other connections. All in all, ElemX is extremely friendly to operators and service technicians.

LM parts are scorching when finished. The parts and build plate are accessed through the printer’s right side and pulled onto the removal cart. (The cart is disconnected from the ElemX during printing.) The small crane is used to lift the hot build plate and parts off the cart and into a water-filled quenching tank.

Metal powder bed fusion printers require cutting with a band saw or electrical discharge machining (EDM) to remove their parts. However, quenching an ElemX build plate separates the pieces from the build plate – a fascinating sight the first time you see it. And, because of the build plate’s smooth, flat surface, the parts have a perfectly flat surface should any secondary processing be needed.

The rectangular piece shown below was one of two simultaneously produced for engineering and quality assurance tests. I am holding the finished parts less than five minutes after the build was completed. The raised bit at the upper right is a visual clue to the part’s orientation for the engineers, with the flat surface on the opposite side (not shown):

My visit to Xerox’s additive manufacturing research facility was well worth the time. And you should visit if you are intrigued by the ElemX Liquid Metal printer, Xerox’s novel technology and the opportunities they present for your organization.

To learn more about Xerox’s ElemX Liquid Metal printer, visit https://www.xerox.com/en-us/innovation/insights/additive-manufacturing-3d-printing

For more on my visit or to cover other 3D printing topics, simply schedule a free, 25-minute Insight Inquiry call: https://calendly.com/pete-basiliere 

Clients may arrange a 50-minute Client Insight Inquiry conversation about ElemX and other topics.