Binder Jetting: The Ultimate Guide

November 25, 2023

By Jeff wei

Binder Jetting is an innovative 3D printing technology, known for its fast and efficient manufacturing method. It is widely used in the production of complex metal parts, ceramic objects, and sand molds and cores. In this paper, we will comprehensively explore the advantages, applications, and differences of Binder Jetting compared to other 3D printing processes. Whether you are a manufacturing professional or a reader interested in 3D printing technology, this article will provide you with the most comprehensive details of the Binder Jetting process.

What is binder jetting?

  • History of Binder Jetting
    The development history of Binder Jetting, as a 3D printing technology, is relatively short. Here is an overview of the history of Binder Jetting:

    Early 1990s: The concept of Binder Jetting first emerged in the early 1990s. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) conducted early experiments and research exploring methods of combining powdered materials with a liquid binding agent.

    1993: A project funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) contributed to the advancement of Binder Jetting. The project aimed to develop a fast and cost-effective manufacturing method for producing complex metal parts.

    1996: Significant breakthroughs in Binder Jetting were achieved by MIT researchers. They published a paper titled “3D Printing of Embedded Freeform Microchannels within Injection Mold Tooling,” which detailed the method of using Binder Jetting technology to print embedded microchannels within injection mold tooling.

    2000s: As 3D printing technology continued to evolve, Binder Jetting gained more attention. Researchers and engineers began exploring the use of Binder Jetting to print various materials, including metals, ceramics, and polymers.

    2009: ExOne became the first company to commercialize Binder Jetting technology. They introduced the first commercial Binder Jetting printer, providing customized and rapid prototyping solutions across various industries.

    2010s: In the 2010s, with further technological advancements and expanded application areas, Binder Jetting found more widespread use in the 3D printing field. Many companies and research institutions started developing and utilizing their own Binder Jetting technologies, applying them in different industries such as aerospace, automotive, medical, and more.
    Currently, Binder Jetting technology continues to evolve and improve. Over time, more innovations and applications are expected to emerge, further expanding the range and potential of Binder Jetting.
  • Definition and basics of Binder Jetting

    Binder Jetting is a 3D printing process that utilizes a liquid binding agent to selectively bind powdered materials together, layer by layer, to create a solid object. It is a powder bed fusion technique where the binding agent acts as a glue, holding the particles together. The process enables the production of complex geometries and can work with a variety of materials.
  • Binder Jetting vs. Other 3D Printing Processes

    Binder Jetting is a distinct 3D printing process that differs from other commonly used 3D printing processes in several ways. Here’s a comparison between Binder Jetting and other 3D printing processes:

    1.Principle:
    Binder Jetting: In Binder Jetting, a liquid binder is selectively deposited onto a powder bed to bind particles together layer by layer, forming the desired object.
    Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)/Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF): FDM/FFF involves extruding molten thermoplastic material through a nozzle, which solidifies to form layers.
    Stereolithography (SLA)/Digital Light Processing (DLP): SLA/DLP uses a light source to cure liquid photopolymer resin layer by layer to create the object.
    Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)/Selective Laser Melting (SLM): SLS/SLM employs a laser to selectively fuse or sinter powdered material, such as metal or plastic, to create the object.

    2.Materials:
    Binder Jetting: It can work with a variety of materials, including metals, ceramics, and sand.
    FDM/FFF: Typically uses thermoplastic materials, such as PLA or ABS.
    SLA/DLP: Primarily uses liquid photopolymer resins.
    SLS/SLM: Commonly works with powdered materials, including plastics, metals, and ceramics.

    3.Accuracy and Resolution:
    Binder Jetting: Offers good accuracy and resolution, but may have slightly lower precision compared to some processes.
    FDM/FFF: Generally provides moderate accuracy and resolution, with visible layer lines.
    SLA/DLP: Offers high accuracy and resolution, capable of producing smooth, detailed surfaces.
    SLS/SLM: Provides high accuracy and resolution, suitable for complex geometries and fine details.

    4.Post-processing:
    Binder Jetting: Requires additional post-processing steps, such as sintering and debinding for metal parts or curing for ceramic parts.
    FDM/FFF: Typically requires minimal post-processing, although surface finishing may be desired.
    SLA/DLP: May require post-curing and removal of excess resin, followed by surface finishing.
    SLS/SLM: Usually involves removing excess powder and may require heat treatment or additional surface finishing.

    5.Applications:
    Binder Jetting: Suitable for producing complex metal parts, sand molds and cores, architectural models, and ceramic objects.
    FDM/FFF: Widely used for rapid prototyping, functional parts, and low-cost production applications.
    SLA/DLP: Commonly used for highly detailed prototypes, jewelry, dental models, and custom medical devices.
    SLS/SLM: Well-suited for functional prototypes, end-use parts, tooling, and production of complex geometries.

Each 3D printing process has its strengths and limitations, and the choice depends on the specific requirements of the application, material properties, and desired outcomes.

What are the types of binder jetting?

There are several types of binder jetting processes used in additive manufacturing. Here are some of the commonly known types:

Metal Binder Jetting: This process involves selectively depositing a binder onto metal powder layers to bind them together. It is often used for producing metal parts with complex geometries. Here is an article introducing metal binder jetting.

Metal binder jetting green parts
Metal binder jetting green parts

Sand Binder Jetting: In sand binder jetting, a binder is selectively deposited onto layers of sand or ceramic powder. This process is commonly used for creating sand molds and cores used in metal casting processes.To understand the sand 3D printer (binder jetting), click here.Currently, we are mainly promoting this sand 3D printer.

3D Printing Sand Molds (Binder jetting)
AFS J1600 Pro sand 3d printer
Sand 3d printer (Binder jetting)

Polymer Binder Jetting: Polymer binder jetting uses a binder material to selectively bind layers of polymer powder. It is used for producing plastic parts and prototypes.

Ceramic Binder Jetting: Ceramic binder jetting involves selectively depositing a binder onto ceramic powder layers. This process is used to create ceramic parts, such as prototypes, molds, and functional components.

Composite Binder Jetting: Composite binder jetting combines different materials, such as polymers and metals or ceramics, to create composite parts with unique properties. It allows for the fabrication of structures with varying material compositions.

These are some of the main types of binder jetting processes, each suited for different materials and applications. The technology continues to advance, and new variations and combinations may emerge in the future as the field of additive manufacturing evolves.

How does binder jetting work?

Binder Jetting Process Steps

  1. Preparation

    Material Selection and Preparation:
    The first step in the Binder Jetting process is to select the appropriate materials based on the desired properties of the final object. This can include metals, ceramics, polymers, or composites in powdered form. The materials are prepared by ensuring they meet specific requirements, such as particle size distribution, purity, and any necessary pre-treatments or surface coatings.

    Digital Modeling and Slicing:
    The next step involves creating a digital model of the object using computer-aided design (CAD) software. The digital model represents the desired shape and dimensions of the object. Once the digital model is ready, it is sliced into thin layers using slicing software. Each layer is defined by a set of instructions that the printer will follow during the printing process.

  2. Preparation before Printing

    Print Bed and Powder Layer Preparation:
    The print bed, typically a platform that can be raised or lowered, is prepared for printing. The print bed is calibrated to ensure proper alignment and levelness. A thin layer of powdered material is spread evenly across the print bed using a roller or similar mechanism. The thickness of the powder layer is controlled to ensure precise layering during printing.

    Preparation of Binder Jetting System:
    The Binder Jetting system, which includes the printhead or dispensing mechanism, is prepared for printing. The system is calibrated to ensure accurate deposition of the binding agent. The binding agent, usually a liquid binder, is loaded into the system. The printer parameters, such as droplet size and deposition speed, are set according to the specific requirements of the printing job.
  3. Binder Jetting Process

    Injecting and Bonding of Powder Layers:
    The printing process begins with the selective deposition of the binding agent onto the powdered material layer. The binding agent is injected or dispensed onto the powder bed in a controlled manner, binding the powder particles together in the desired pattern for each layer. The binding agent acts as a binder, solidifying the powder particles upon contact and creating a cohesive layer.

    Layer-by-Layer Object Building:
    After the binding agent is applied, the print bed is lowered (or the printhead is raised) to make room for the next layer. The process of injecting and bonding the powder layers is repeated for each layer, following the instructions from the sliced digital model. This layer-by-layer approach gradually builds up the object until the entire 3D structure is formed.
  4. Post-processing Steps

    Drying and Curing:
    Once the printing process is complete, the printed object may undergo post-processing steps. Excess binding agent and any residual moisture are removed through drying. Depending on the specific materials used, the printed object may also undergo curing, which involves subjecting it to heat or UV light to strengthen and solidify the part.

    High-Temperature Treatment (Optional):
    In some cases, an optional step of high-temperature treatment may be performed. This involves subjecting the printed object to elevated temperatures to further enhance its mechanical properties, such as increased strength or improved dimensional stability. The specific temperature and duration of the treatment depend on the materials used and the desired outcome.

    Note: If metal binder jetting is used to produce parts, after printing, they need to be placed in a specialized oven for high-temperature sintering and debinding before they can form the final usable parts.

    Surface Treatment and Subsequent Processing:
    After drying and curing, the printed object may undergo surface treatment processes to improve its appearance or functionality. This can include sanding, polishing, or applying coatings. Depending on the application and desired specifications, additional subsequent processing steps such as machining or assembly may be performed to complete the final product.
Metal Binder Jetting: Sintering and Debinding.

Advantages and Application Areas of Binder Jetting

Advantages

Binder Jetting is a versatile 3D printing process that offers several advantages, making it a valuable technology in various industries. Here are the key advantages of Binder Jetting:

Fast Print Speeds:
Binder Jetting is known for its rapid printing speeds compared to other 3D printing processes. The ability to selectively deposit a binding agent onto powdered material allows for the simultaneous solidification of multiple layers, significantly reducing print times. This makes Binder Jetting ideal for time-sensitive projects or high-volume production.

Realization of Complex Geometries:
Binder Jetting enables the creation of complex and intricate geometries that would be challenging or impossible to achieve through traditional manufacturing methods. The layer-by-layer construction process allows for the fabrication of intricate internal structures, overhangs, and intricate details with high precision. This design freedom opens up new possibilities for innovative and optimized product designs.

Printing of a Wide Range of Materials:
Binder Jetting is capable of printing a wide range of materials, including metals, ceramics, polymers, and composites. This versatility makes it suitable for various applications across industries. Different materials can be used to achieve specific properties such as strength, flexibility, heat resistance, or electrical conductivity. The ability to print multiple materials in a single object further expands the potential applications and functionality of printed parts.

Cost-Effective Production:
Binder Jetting offers cost advantages in terms of material usage and production scalability. The process typically uses powdered materials, which can be more cost-effective than solid materials used in other manufacturing processes. Additionally, Binder Jetting can be easily scaled for mass production, making it suitable for industrial manufacturing applications.

Reduced Waste:
Binder Jetting generates less waste compared to traditional manufacturing methods. Excess powder can be recycled and reused, minimizing material waste. Additionally, the layer-by-layer construction process allows for efficient material usage, reducing the need for post-processing and minimizing material waste.

Customization and Personalization:
Binder Jetting enables customization and personalization of products at a large scale. It allows for the production of unique, one-of-a-kind items or small-batch productions tailored to specific requirements. This customization potential is particularly beneficial for industries such as medical, dental, and consumer goods, where personalized products are in high demand.

What is binder jetting used for?(Areas of application)

Binder Jetting has a wide range of application areas, including:

Metal Fabrication and Casting:
Binder Jetting is commonly used in metal fabrication and casting processes. It enables the production of complex metal parts with intricate geometries that may be difficult or costly to achieve through traditional manufacturing methods. Binder Jetting allows for the creation of metal prototypes, small-batch production, and even large-scale manufacturing of metal components for various industries, including aerospace, automotive, and medical.

Binder jetting 3D printing enables green rapid casting


Rapid Prototyping:
Binder Jetting is well-suited for rapid prototyping due to its ability to quickly produce physical models directly from digital designs. It enables engineers, designers, and manufacturers to iterate and test their designs efficiently, reducing the time and cost associated with traditional prototyping methods. The speed, accuracy, and cost-effectiveness of Binder Jetting make it a valuable tool for rapid prototyping across different industries.

Industrial Manufacturing and Customized Production:
Binder Jetting is increasingly used in industrial manufacturing for customized production. It allows for the production of complex, customized parts with unique geometries, such as personalized medical implants, dental prosthetics, or tailored jewelry. By utilizing Binder Jetting, manufacturers can produce small to medium-sized batches of customized products economically, catering to specific customer needs and preferences.

Tooling and Jigs:
Binder Jetting can be utilized to produce tooling and jigs used in various manufacturing processes. Tooling such as molds, patterns, and fixtures can be quickly and cost-effectively produced through Binder Jetting, reducing lead times and costs associated with traditional tooling methods. This application area is particularly beneficial for low-volume production or situations where frequent design changes or customization are required.

Architectural and Artistic Applications:
Binder Jetting finds application in architecture and art, enabling the creation of intricate and visually appealing structures, sculptures, and models. Its ability to produce complex geometries and fine details allows artists, architects, and designers to explore innovative designs and bring their creative visions to life.

Education and Research:
Binder Jetting is widely used in educational institutions and research facilities as a tool for teaching, experimentation, and exploration. It provides students, researchers, and scientists with hands-on experience in 3D printing technology and facilitates the development of new materials, processes, and applications.

These are some prominent application areas of Binder Jetting, and the technology continues to evolve, opening up new possibilities in various industries and sectors.

Metal Binder Jetting 3D Printing parts
AFS Metal Binder Jetting 3D Printing parts

Challenges and Advances in Binder Jetting

  • Material Selection and Performance Issues:

    Material Compatibility:
    One challenge in Binder Jetting is the limited range of materials available for printing. The binding agents and powders must be compatible to achieve proper bonding and desired mechanical properties. Developing new materials and improving material compatibility is an ongoing challenge.

    Material Performance: Achieving consistent material properties and performance across the printed parts can be challenging. Variations in powder characteristics, binder distribution, and post-processing steps can affect the final material properties. Advancements are being made to optimize material formulations and post-processing techniques to enhance material performance.
  • Cost and Production Scale Considerations:

    Cost of Materials: Some materials used in Binder Jetting can be expensive, especially in certain industries such as metal printing. Material costs can limit the adoption of Binder Jetting for large-scale production or cost-sensitive applications. Efforts are being made to develop more cost-effective materials for Binder Jetting.

    Production Scale: Scaling up production in Binder Jetting can be challenging. As the build size increases, there can be issues with maintaining uniformity, consistency, and print quality across the entire build volume. Improvements in machine design, process control, and automation are being pursued to enable larger-scale production.
  • Ongoing Technology Improvements and Research:

    Resolution and Accuracy: Achieving higher resolution and accuracy in Binder Jetting is an area of continuous improvement. Advancements in printhead technology, powder spreading mechanisms, and process control algorithms aim to enhance the precision and fine detail capabilities of Binder Jetting systems.

    Process Speed: Increasing the printing speed without compromising print quality is a focus of research. Faster printing speeds can improve productivity and reduce production costs. Efforts are underway to optimize powder spreading techniques, binder deposition methods, and drying/curing strategies to achieve faster printing speeds.

    Post-processing Optimization: Post-processing steps, such as support removal, surface finishing, and heat treatments, are areas for improvement. Research is being conducted to develop more efficient and reliable post-processing techniques that reduce manual labor, improve surface quality, and enhance the overall post-processing workflow.

Overall, Binder Jetting technology is continually advancing to address the challenges associated with material selection, cost, production scale, and process optimization. Ongoing research and development efforts aim to expand the range of materials, improve printing speed and accuracy, enhance material performance, and optimize post-processing steps, making Binder Jetting more accessible, cost-effective, and capable of meeting a broader range of application requirements.

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