Q&A: Bosch Advanced Ceramics on its role in the 3D printing industry

Two years ago, during the last face-to-face Formnext, the most observant visitors and exhibitors will have noticed Bosch brand above a booth, not something you see at every 3D printing show. The company was promoting its internal startup incubator, grow, which includes ten start-ups seeking to bring new solutions and services to artificial intelligence, property management systems, industrial additive manufacturing and advanced ceramics. Last month, the multinational engineering firm was back, this time pushing one particular start-up to the fore.

Bosch advanced ceramics is a company of five years in the manufacture. There are 13 core team members who operate ceramic injection molding and pressing for mass production of parts; machining and laser processing to ensure high precision; and also the 3D printing technology of Lithoz and 3DCeram.

At Formnext, TCT stopped by the company’s stand to talk to Iris Heibel [IH]responsible for sales and products, and Nikolai Sauer [NS]Engineering & Additive Manufacturing.

TCT: First of all, can you tell us why you created Bosch Advanced Ceramics?

IH: In 2006 there was a decision in the factory and they decided to add ceramic injection molding equipment to their facility due to the fact that they already have metal injection molding and a polymer injection molding. And so, they wanted to have all the material [range] available. Since then, they have started producing technical ceramics on this site dedicated solely to the automotive industry. And so it grew and grew [in automotive], but at some point we started having projects for the consumer goods sector and this was the first larger quantity that they were producing with this ceramic injection molding equipment. If you have new projects, you should always make samples first, and sampling in ceramic injection molding is quite expensive.

So in 2014 they decided they wanted to have a 3D printer for ceramics. They bought some Lithoz hardware, then they started to gain experience with this printer. So in 2016, since we were just at the car factory, it was always difficult to get investments and so three employees from this factory decided to create a startup and it was then at Grow platform GmbH.

It was the beginning, then Nikolai joined, he is dedicated only to the 3D printing department, and we have others for ceramic injection molding. And, as it developed rather well, we had more and more inquiries and so on, then we decided in 2018 to have a second printer and now we are doing much better than before. ‘era. So we grow and grow. Then last year we changed our name to Bosch Advanced Ceramics, just a name, we’re still in Grow platform GmbH, it’s still a Bosch business startup. So still 100% under the Bosch logo and now we have more employees, we get more new printers and business is growing.

NS: We started with additive manufacturing for ceramic injection molding sampling, but we had to expand, to move to mass production in additive manufacturing. But at the beginning, we have to do a lot of process development, and from 2017, we develop the process more, and now we also have serial projects.

TCT: What benefits and opportunities does Bosch Advanced Ceramics see with 3D printing?

IH: So we can be faster, it’s flexible, we can easily change part designs and then get additional features and so on, so it’s fast. What else?

NS: With conventional ceramic injection molding, for example, and other conventional technologies, a lot of geometries couldn’t really be produced. And now we have the ability to do these kinds of geometries that weren’t possible before.

TCT: According to you, what are the current advantages and disadvantages of ceramic 3D printing? What does it do well and what would you like to see improved?

NS: With Lithoz technology, we can produce very fine structures, very low wall thickness, high precision, the surface roughness is extremely good. But we are limited in scalability. So on the one hand the size of the build platform is not that big, it fits most of the parts we print, but if we increase even more, thinking about mass production, there is a need for development there. But so, we don’t only work with Lithoz printers, we also work with 3DCeram. And, yeah, I think that’s just another possible technology for production.

TCT: What key industries do you print parts for and what are the typical components you produce?

NS: We are in very different markets. One of the additive manufacturing markets we are in is healthcare. We do a lot of work there in additive manufacturing, because they have very complex parts, most of the parts are very small, and they have a high demand on material properties and so on. It is therefore a big market for additive manufacturing. Also electronics, small parts with high electrical installation is a big topic. And we have a lot of different apps from other industry partners.

IH: What’s also important is plant engineering, it’s big business there too. They sometimes have new designs and so on, and then they go to prototypes first and so that’s important. And then, the positive point of ceramics, the properties are an advantage: resistance to corrosion, resistance to heat and resistance to wear. So these properties are often in demand by this industry, which really increases the demand when polymers like PEEK no longer work, or metals no longer work.

NS: Basically, ceramic is used when other materials fail due to their properties.

TCT: What is the company’s approach to materials? Do you currently rely solely on materials available with Lithoz and 3DCeram machines? Or do you work to develop materials in-house?

IH: We have, in principle, a development department, but at the moment we focus only on the equipment, then only on the standard material to acquire a better knowledge on this subject. Then, as soon as we have higher demands for new materials, we can always offer this development of new materials. It’s possible, that’s for sure. Bosch is huge and we have great corporate research so we can do that, but right now we’re focusing on standard materials.

TCT: Do you have application engineers and, if so, how does the application development process work at Bosch Advanced Ceramics?

IH: They send us inquiries, or they send us a description of the challenge they have, and in most cases they send drawings directly, and then we start discussions with them. And often, I’ve been a ceramic engineer for 28 years now, you always argue about the right design for ceramics, whether it’s powder pressing or injection molding, but it’s more difficult with 3D printing.

NS: Now the design has to be suitable for ceramics in general, but also suitable for additive manufacturing, but we can do things with additive manufacturing that we couldn’t do before. This is where knowledge comes together with us and we discuss it with customers.

TCT: What do you think is the unique selling point of Bosch Advanced Ceramics?

IH: We basically have a full supply chain of what we can offer, so we have our in-house experience with development, we have engineering capability, and then knowledge. And then we have different kinds of technology available, we can also do something besides 3D printing, we have coding equipment, and we have good knowledge and experience within HCCC, for example, so adding conductive metal parts so you can use as a sensor, for example. And overall, we can do it all with one hand, so that’s what makes us attractive to customers.

NS: Bosch is also used to evolving in large numbers. And, as we have a lot of know-how in ceramic injection molding, for example, or other comparable technologies, we have the capacity and the know-how within Bosch to develop on a large scale.

IH: And automation is also our goal, so Bosch is well known for automating everything. As soon as we come to automating our 3D printers, it’s the right way.

TCT: Finally, what is Bosch Advanced Ceramics’ vision for the future?

NS: We already do a lot of ceramic injection molding and we want to expand it even more, but I think the main goal is to bring additive manufacturing into mass production, just like another production technology, so if the part is more suitable for additive manufacturing, we will do it with additive manufacturing. If it’s more for ceramic injection molding, we’ll go the other way. And that’s the goal: to expand that dramatically.

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