The big three characteristics that hardware developers are often working to improve on their 3D printers are print speed, build volume, and accuracy/resolution. Some companies specialize in large-scale 3D printing while others focus on high-speed production, and of course many focus on producing the most detailed and precise 3D prints.
Canon, the Tokyo-based company known worldwide for their cameras and photo printers, has decided to pursue the latter path by creating a new ceramic material that results in extremely high-resolution parts.
The substrate is an alumina-based ceramic powder that is sintered together with a selective laser melting 3D printer. Unlike other ceramic-infused resins that are cured with an SLA (stereolithography) 3D printer and experience up to 20% shrinkage in the final annealing bake, the Canon ceramic parts experience dimensional differences after the annealing stage of less than 0.8%. Dimensional accuracy is crucial for interlocking parts and industrial equipment, a sector Canon is targeting due to ceramic’s heat and corrosion resistance.
Complex geometries are no problem for the ceramic material by looking at their demonstration prints, though the degradation on overhangs over 45° on the torture test is surprising. Parts 3D printed in SLM machines usually don’t struggle with overhangs as the parts are always supported by the bed of powder. It’s probably something Canon will sort out with more testing.
Canon plans to offer this technology to the medical field where compatibility and customization are especially important factors. And being able to more affordably produce small batches could save hospitals a bundle of money.