Tag Archives: Additive Manufacturing

Micro 3D Printing for Miniaturization

Engineers have been using additive manufacturing for prototyping for about 30 years now and are also using it for production. However, the biggest value addition from additive manufacturing comes from producing parts that other traditional manufacturing methods find difficult.

Fabricators use additive manufacturing as a valuable and important solution for producing parts such as those including complex design features like internal geometries and cavities that are impossible to achieve by regular machining. Additive manufacturing is helpful in producing structural elements that are too cumbersome or difficult to generate effectively by conventional means.

At present, engineers use 3D printers for printing large parts quickly. These parts may have resolutions around 50 µm and tolerances around 100 µm. However, sometimes, they also need to produce parts with sub-micron resolutions that are smaller than 5 um. Therefore, they needed a system for printing micro-sized parts at a reasonably high print speed.

Smaller parts require a more precise production process. For instance, cell phones and tablets, microfluidic devices for medical pumps, cardiovascular stents, MEMS, industrial sensors, and edge technology components require connectors with high resolution and accuracy. Most standard additive manufacturing machines cannot provide the resolution necessary for micro-sized parts.

BMF or Boston Micro Fabrication designs and manufactures the PµSL or Projection Micro Stereolithography technology-based printers. Using PµSL printers, it is possible to create 3D printed parts with 2 µm resolution at ±10 um scales. These 3D printers incorporate the benefits of both the SLA or stereolithography technologies and the DLP or digital light processing technologies.

Using a flash of ultraviolet light at microscale resolutions, these PµSL printers cause a rapid photopolymerization of an entire layer of resin. This takes place at ultra-high precision, accuracy, and resolution, not possible to achieve with other technologies.

For faster processing, the PµSL technology supports continuous exposure. Other design elements allow additional benefits to the user. For instance, in printers using the standard SLA technology, the bottom-up build method requires a support structure to hold the part to the base, while also supporting the overhanging structures. Conventional SLA systems can typically achieve resolutions of 50 µm, an overall tolerance of ±100 µm, and a minimum feature size of 150 µm. Similarly, standard DLP systems using a similar bottom-up build structure offer 25-50 µm resolution, an overall tolerance of ±75 µm, and a minimum feature size of 50-100 µm.

On the other hand, the PµSL uses a top-down build, thereby minimizing the need for a support structure. It also provides a way to reduce damage while removing bubbles with a transparent membrane. Comparatively, PµSL systems offer resolution down to 2 µm, dimensional tolerances as high as ±10 µm, and minimum feature sizes of 10 µm.

BMF provides this type of quality by properly employing every system component. This includes the resolution of the optics, controlling the exposure and resulting curing, the precision of mechanical components, and the interaction between parts and required support structures. It also depends on the ability to control tolerances across the build and the overall size of the part. Moreover, working with such diverse micro parts requires choosing the right material characteristics.

Advantages of Additive Manufacturing

Additive manufacturing, like those from 3-D printers, allows businesses to develop functional prototypes quickly and cost-effectively. They may require these products for testing or for running a limited production line, allowing quick modifications when necessary. This is possible because these printers allow effortless electronic transport of computer models and designs. There are many benefits of additive manufacturing.

Designs most often require modifications and redesign. With additive manufacturing, designers have the freedom to design and innovate. They can test their designs quickly. This is one of the most important aspects of making innovative designs. Designers can follow the creative freedom in the production process without thinking about time and or cost penalties. This offers substantial benefits over the traditional methods of manufacturing and machining. For instance, over 60% of designs undergoing tooling and machining also undergo modifications while in production. This quickly builds up an increase in cost and delays. With additive manufacturing, the movement away from static design gives engineers the ability to try multiple versions or iterations simultaneously while accruing minimal additional costs.

The freedom to design and innovate on the fly without incurring penalties offers designers significant rewards like better quality products, compressed production schedules, more product designs, and more products, all leading to greater revenue generation. Regular traditional methods of manufacturing and production are subtractive processes that remove unwanted material to achieve the final design. On the other hand, additive manufacturing can build the same part by adding only the required material.

One of the greatest benefits of additive manufacturing is streamlining the traditional methods of manufacturing and production. Compressing the traditional methods also means a significant reduction in environmental footprints. Taking into account the mining process for steel and its retooling process during traditional manufacturing, it is obvious that additive manufacturing is a sustainable alternative.

Traditional manufacturing requires tremendous amounts of energy, while additive manufacturing requires only a relatively small amount. Additionally, waste products from traditional manufacturing require subsequent disposal. Additive manufacturing produces very little waste, as the process uses only the needed materials. An additional advantage of additive manufacturing is it can produce lightweight components for vehicles and aircraft, which further mitigates harmful fuel emissions.

For instance, with additive manufacturing, it is possible to build solid parts with semi-hollow honeycomb interiors. Such structures offer an excellent strength-to-weight ratio, which is equivalent to or better than the original solid part. These components can be as much as 60% lighter than the original parts that traditional subtractive manufacturing methods can produce. This can have a tremendous impact on fuel consumption and the costs of the final design.

Using additive manufacturing also reduces the risk involved and increases predictability, resulting in improving the bottom line of a company. As the manufacturer can try new designs and test prototypes quickly, digital additive manufacturing modifies the earlier unpredictable methods of production and turns them into predictable ones.

Most manufacturers use additive manufacturing as a bridge between technologies. They use additive technology to quickly reach a stable design that traditional manufacturing can then take over for meeting higher volumes of production.