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Material Jetting (MJ) 3D Printing – Simply Explained

June 9, 2021
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When it comes to producing 3D printed parts and functional prototypes of high quality, no other technology guarantees you as much as Material Jetting 3D Printing.

Many complex objects that have been created with this technology are dimensionally accurate and possess a smooth surface finish.

This technology that was introduced to the world in the 1990s has the ability for producing a full-color visual prototype, injection molds as well as casting patterns.

It is a natural tendency of people to have a prejudice about technology that prints accurately consumes more time than others.

But this is not the case with Material Jetting 3D printing technology. It utilizes the same or even lesser print time when compared to other technologies for creating objects of equal geometry.

This technology is able to do so by using liquid photopolymer droplets that are cured using UV light.

Before the parts are cured, the photopolymer resin is sprayed in the form of droplets. This is the reason why the mechanism of Material Jetting is also compared to the 2D inkjet process.

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But it should be noted how inkjet printers deposit only one layer of ink droplets, whereas in material jetting it’s layer after the other until the complete part is printed.

In terms of the source used for curing parts or functional prototypes, MJ is similar to SLA. The difference however is in the method of spraying.

If you have seen SLA 3D printers, they hold an entire vat of resin which is then, selectively cured by a laser source. Whereas in MJ 3D printers; hundreds of tiny droplets are sprayed at the same time.

Now that you have enough introduction about this technology let’s jump right into the way in which the technology can print parts.

How is Working of Material Jetting Technology?

Apart from the aspect mentioned in the last paragraph of the previous section, there is another aspect that makes this technology unique from others.

This aspect deals with the manner in which the 3D printing material is deposited. Most 3D printing technologies, be it FDM, SLA, or SLS deposits, cures, and sinters material in a point-wise fashion.

Whereas, in material jetting 3D printing technology the resin is jetted from more than one print head along with the X-axis carrier. The duty of this carrier is to sweep back and forth across the point of evolution.

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For helping you to better imagine this situation, we ask you to think of a light source present in a 2D scanner or a windshield wiper of a car.

This detailed deposition procedure of the technology is believed to be a very strong reason why MJ prints in a faster and more accurate manner than any other 3D printing technologies.

The main components of an MJ 3D printer are print heads, UV light source, build platform, and a material container. Both, the print head as well as the light sources are suspended along the X-axis carriage.

Printing Process

  • It begins with pouring the resin into the material container from the heater. As we do during the SLA 3D printing procedure. Heating the material and keeping its temperature in the 30 to 60 degrees Celsius range for letting it attain suiting viscosity. After the liquid is preheated and has gained a better viscosity, the print head of an MJ 3D printer begins to move above the build platform. This is how the first layer is deposited according to the 3D design file.
  • The X-axis travels across the build platform as the print heads start to selectively jet many tiny resin droplets. The print heads are followed by UV light sources that immediately cure the resin after being sprayed. The support structures of the part that you are planning to print are printed at the same time. This is to ensure the stability of part during the printing process also known as photopolymerization.
  • After the first layer has solidified, the build platform lowers itself by single layer height and the process is repeated. Having multiple print heads is beneficial not only in a material deposition but also during multi-material printing. Just like other 3D printers, and MJ 3D printer also allows for support materials/multiple varieties/colors. Not only can you choose from standard resins but also from flexible, castable, transparent, and temperature-resistant materials.
  • The last step is to remove the support structures, separate them from the part and make them ready for post-processing.

After having looked at the process which happens inside an MJ 3D printer, let’s look at the pros and cons of Material Jetting 3D printing.

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Material Jetting’s Pros and Cons

Pros and Cons Material JettingCredit: additively

PROS:

  • This technology of 3D printing offers the highest level of accuracy. You can compare the layer resolution range offered by 3D printers based on this technology with others and check the difference for yourself. The precise deposition of tiny droplets of the material allows printers operating on MJ 3D printing to offer layer height as thin as 0.013 mm. Parts with a very smooth surface finish and highly accurate features can be produced using this technology.
  • Having stated about the accuracy, it’s time for speed. MJ 3D printing technology builds accurate parts in a minimal time frame.
  • Material Jetting 3D printing technology can be used for printing full-color as well as multi-material 3D printing. The print head in an MJ 3D printing process combines multiple nozzles that can be utilized for depositing different 3D printing materials. Or, if needed can also be used for printing parts in different colors. Because of this reason, the objects created using this 3D printing technology possess different characteristics such as rigidity, flexibility, opaqueness, and translucency.
  • The support structures used for printing parts and functional prototypes using Material Jetting can be easily dissolved in an ultrasonic bath. If the procedure of dissolving is done in a proper manner, the supports do not leave any mark on the product, giving it a good surface finish. These parts can find applications wherein aesthetic quality matters most. In terms of looks, parts made from this technology can very well compete with parts made from injection molding techniques.

CONS:

  • The high-performance 3D printing quality and extremely smooth surface finish come with an extremely high price tag. Practically, you can search online for the price of any MJ 3D printer and an FDM, SLA 3D printer and know how much you will have to pay extra for getting high-quality parts. Not only are MJ 3D printers available at a very high cost but also their 3D printing materials.
  • When the parts and functional prototypes made from Material Jetting 3D printing technology are compared with SLS 3D printing, they are found to be weaker. And this is why they are not well-suited for functional applications that SLS 3D printed parts are. They do serve the purpose of increasing aesthetics of the place they are kept in but do not serve a function, they can share no load.
  • This technology of 3D printing is only applicable to viscous materials and the numbers of materials that are viscous and can be 3D printed are very limited. Hence you would not get as many options for printing with MJ as much as you would get with FDM or SLA.
  • The overall print time of MJ 3D printing that takes into account the deposition process is more than other printing technologies. So, you can say a part created with other 3D printing technologies will take less time to 3D print than with this one.

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What are the Applications of Material Jetting in 3D Printing?

Application of Material Jetting 3D PrintingCredit: 3dnatives

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As we have hinted in the previous section as well as other parts of this article, MJ 3D printing is mainly used for producing beautiful and real looking prototypes.

So, say if you are a doctor who needs to explain to his or her student about some body part. You can employ this 3D printing technology for printing accurate body parts.

And then that model can generate an accurate picture in the mind of your student about the actual body part.

The same example applies to you if you are an architect, designer, or artist. All of these professional benefits way too much because of the precision is shown by this 3D printing technology.

Another example that can be given relevant to this topic is of Audi Pre-Series Centre. They created some completely functional and multi-material prototypes for speeding up the design verification process of their car using Stratasys’ printers based on material jetting.

Because of the great level of detailing and temperature stability in material jetting technology, it can be utilized for making low-run injection molds.

This 3D printing technology makes possible tooling for injection molding and investment casting in a much faster and cheaper way than what is currently done.

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Despite faster printing, the technology does not compromise on achieving a higher level of complexity that is impossible by other technologies.

Material Jetting is used in making 3D printed electronic devices. An illustration of the same is given by Nano Dimension’s 3D printer named Dragon Fly 2020 Pro.

This one deposits conductive silver inks for creating multilayer electronic circuits, PCB prototypes as well as antennas.

To date, the best use of Material Jetting 3D printing technology has been found in the medical field for making full-color anatomical models.

Not only do these models help medical students have a better learning experience, but also they allow surgeons to plan and execute their surgery more efficiently than ever.

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What Materials are Used for MJ 3D Printing?

Materials Used for MJ 3D PrintingCredit: mjmaterial

Before jumping on to materials used in this 3D printing technology, let’s get to know the two chief 3D printing companies that are into making 3D printers as well as 3D printing materials based on/related to the technology.

Stratasys and 3D Systems offer a range of photo-curable plastics as well as composites. The two topmost used material for 3D printing are photopolymers and casting wax.

Stratasys is known in the market for offering its range of digital materials. The materials offered in this range can be combined with two or more photopolymers to create a hybrid range of properties.

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Currently, the ongoing research is in the segment that aims to make metals, ceramics, as well as silicones with this technology.

A variation of this technology i.e. the Nanoparticle Jetting technology is developed by a company called Xjet that allows 3D printing with metals and ceramics.

The suspended ceramic or metal particles, created during liquid formation, are then removed during sintering. Another noteworthy contribution is given by a company called ACEO.

This company has invented the technology for printing with Silicon material. ACEO is a division of the German company called Wacker Chemie AG, a chemical giant.

Along with Silicon, it allows you to print with other materials as well. Also, with Silicon, it allows for 3D printing with multiple colors and hardness.

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Recommendation for a Material Jetting 3D Printers

MJ 3D printersCredit: beamler

As mentioned above, Stratasys and 3D Systems are two main companies that manufacture 3D printers based on this technology.

The Projet series by 3D Systems is one of the most sophisticated 3D printing systems you can get yourself based on Material Jetting. It can create parts with multi-materials and full-color.

Stating about Stratasys, it is the J750 3D printer that comes with a decent build volume. Claims are that this 3D printer allows you to print with six different materials at the same time! Just Imagine! How multifunctional 3D printing can get!

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The Conclusion

As you would have realized Material Jetting 3D printing technology is preferred by experts all over the world when they wish to have high-quality prototypes. But not much for functional purposes, the technology primarily opts for the aesthetics it brings to the table.

It is known for producing some of the finest surface finishes and layer resolution range the world has ever seen when it comes to 3D printing. This is because of its drop-on-demand technology.

Further research is still on in this technology to make this technology compatible with more and more 3D printing materials. But till then too, the technology remains a very promising one for bioprinting, regenerative medicine, as well as tissue engineering.

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