Back in 2019, during the Investor’s Day conference, Xerox announced their plan to enter the additive technologies market. The decision was backed up by buying a startup named Vader Systems: it develops unusual magnetohydrodynamic 3D printers that work with liquid metals and alloys.
According to the predictions by the IDC (International Data Corporation) consulting company released at the end of 2018, the size of the global additive technologies market will be $13.8 billion by the end of 2019. (They were close since the market size by the end of 2019 was around $10.4 billion) Obviously, a famous office equipment manufacturer wanted to have a chance at 3D printing. Xerox had never produced 3D printers or their materials but they planned to showcase their polymer (and other) 3D printing solutions in the near future.
The company didn’t share their exact plans but there was still a surprise at the conference: Xerox representatives announced buying the Vader Systems family startup. It was founded by inventor Zachary Vader, supervised by his father Scott Vader. They’ve been developing a relatively inexpensive magnetohydrodynamic 3D printing technology for years.
Scott and Zachary Vader have been developing liquid metal 3D printing technology since 2013 at least. That year they produced their first ‘prototype’ — or a conceptual model that was optimistically positioned as a compact desktop 3D printer but didn’t have a functioning print head at the time. Nevertheless, a few years later Vaders managed to attract an investment of $750,000 and move out of their garage into an office. And after that, they became a part of Xerox.
The test system named Polaris was showcased at the RAPID + TCT event in Fort Worth, Texas in 2018. It was able to produce metal models with dimensions of up to 305 x 305 x 305 mm. It used welded wire made of alloys consisting of aluminum, bronze, brass, and various types of steel. The most interesting feature of the technology is the coating method it utilizes.
Essentially it’s a metal analog of FDM 3D printers but it has its own features: the wire is melted in a ceramic hot end and pushed out using a magnetohydrodynamic dispenser, thus forming the model on a drop-by-drop, layer-by-layer basis.
If the project succeeds, the Vaders will be able to offer an inexpensive high-performance technology that can be used in relatively compact and affordable desktop systems which will now be branded as Xerox.
The idea is to melt a welded wire in a ceramic hot end and then coat the substrate and previous layers using an MHD-based dispenser. At this moment, no information is available about the technical specifications of the Xerox solution but there are some rumors about maximum hot end temperature exceeding 800°С, the build volume of 305 x 305 x 127 mm and efficiency of around 1000 droplets per second.
According to some sources, the test model of Polaris 3D printer that was showcased at the RAPID + TCT event in 2018 under the brand of Vader Systems, had a build volume of 305 x 305 x 305 mm and used weld wire made of alloys consisting of aluminum, bronze, brass and various types of steel. In the case of the Xerox ElemX, only aluminum has been mentioned in the rumors so far.
Either way, the first model produced by Xerox in December of 2020 will be shipped to Naval Postgraduate School for testing. There the students will find out new ways to use 3D printing technologies for warfare, maritime and naval warfare while also providing feedback about the technology. Xerox hasn’t yet said anything about getting the ElemX 3D printers on the market.