Lake3D, a specialist in three-dimensional printing technology and based in hub Beta, has only been around for a year and a half. After a period of laboratory tests at various locations, the startup will produce its first test series next year from a new production location in Maastricht, focusing for now on dentistry. LABInsights interviewed the team and wrote this article.
Lake3D is basically a Limburg company with offices at Twice in Eindhoven, the Brightlands Campus Geleen, and in Paris! Reason: the diversity of activities that cannot possibly all be performed in one place. "As a specialist in 3D jetting of all kinds of materials in all colours, we have a broad technology portfolio," explains Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Joost Anne Veerman. "That includes electrical engineering, mechatronics, software, chemistry and physics." That makes many different laboratory tests at various locations quite logical.
We build products from droplets of 25 micrometres (μ), from up to eight different materials.
CHIEF TECHNOLOGY OFFICER (CTO) JOOST ANNE VEERMAN
Next year Lake3D will produce the first test series from a new production location in Maastricht. "Don't imagine large offices, it's mainly about lab capacity", Veerman puts it into perspective. "Working from different locations suits a high-tech start-up in the year 2021. With our own printer, we build products from droplets of 25 micrometre (μ), from up to eight different materials. After flowing out, these form layers of 10 μ. We do this with different print heads in a modularly constructed printer. This explains why we integrate knowledge from so many disciplines and test it at specialised locations."
3D jetting different materials to get the right functional properties in an end product is not simply a matter of putting together a printer with a printhead and pressing a button. Veerman: "First of all, we design the machine ourselves. We do that modularly, so we can easily change the printhead and add peripherals for UV curing, for example, as required." But a printer alone is not enough, it is also about the process development for each product, especially in terms of the interaction between material and print head. Veerman: "The conditions during printing are very important and the demands on the end products are high. If you are going to produce, the production conditions must remain stable in order to get the right quality end product. We haven't got that far yet. Until then, it's: test, test, test and measure, measure, measure."
Lake3D makes use of the DSM Science Centre on the Brightlands Campus Geleen for Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) research or Micro Computed Tomography (micro CT) scans, for example. In addition, MBO, HBO and WO students carry out colour, strength and hardness measurements on the printed products under the guidance of a supervisor from Chill on that campus. Other measurements concern the biocompatibility of materials. For example, is material leaking from a polymer network? In filled materials, are the nanoparticles safely contained in the matrix?
The group responsible for software architecture and design is based in Paris. The actual test and development laboratories are located at the Brightlands Campus in Geleen and the High Tech Campus in Eindhoven. There, Lake3D designs its products on the printing platform with the materials of a European development partner. Here, the company develops the printing strategy: how do you build up the layers? Fluid rheology to study the flow behaviour from droplets to layers is an important area of research. The same applies to 3D colour construction: which colour should be at which depth to achieve the right effect? Lake3D also applies optical microscopy and vision cameras to analyse both processes in great detail.
Automated crown production
The number of possible applications is large. 3D-jetting makes it possible to combine the desired properties of different materials. This is attractive in many specialisations. "Focus is important: selecting the application(s) in which we can add the most value functionally," says Veerman. "That is why we have chosen dental solutions, such as crowns, snoring and anti-cracking teeth. In doing so, we work together with dental universities and a number of dental laboratories."
Different types of ceramic
When market introduction comes up, Lake3D can, for example, realise the automated production of crowns in the desired shape, colour and hardness. This is still manual work, but the market is familiar with 3D printing for making models. Veerman: "We are taking the step towards printed permanent solutions. Current zirconium crowns are ten times harder than natural teeth, so they wear out more quickly. Moreover, they need an extra layer of porcelain. Because we can mix different types of ceramic, we can make exactly the right hardness. In addition, we can create not only the colour of the natural enamel, but also the semi-transparent character of that material in one printing process: hard and soft, the right colour and the right light transmission all in one."
Lake3D, with a printer and software developed for the process, may be the first company in the world to bring a commercial application of 3D jetting to the market. Veerman: "The digitisation of dentistry is the first, but certainly not the only application. The tricky thing is, though, that Lake3D can primarily fill a latent need. "We can offer solutions and make products that are not possible in any other way: very precise, possibly very small, from combinations of materials that do not yet exist. This means that we have to make it clear to prospects that what they don't think is possible is. That's a great challenge for us."