MIT spinoff Boston Micro Fabrication (BMF) has developed a new 3D printing process to create millimeter-sized products with details at the micron scale.
According to BMF’s co-founder and MIT professor Nicholas Fang, this new technology could enable the creation of new parts with tiny, complex geometries and entirely new functions benefiting everything from electronics to medical devices to microfluidic chips.
The BMF invention builds on the digital light processing (DLP) approach whereby a flash of light from a projector is used to cure each layer of material being printed.
In this case however, a special lens was used to focus projected light at much smaller scales, says Fang, denoting how this process shares a lot of similarities with regular microscopes,- except that they are delivering a digital picture instead of illuminating uniform light in a microscope.
The spinoff has also developed novel software design and control systems to precisely move the printing platform during production.
BMF says its printing technology – Projection Micro-Stereolithography (PµSL) – makes it the only 3D printing company that can match the precision of injection molding.
This allows BMF’s customers to avoid ordering tiny molds for new products and prototypes, a process that can take time and be prohibitively expensive.
According to BMF CEO John Kawola, molds needed to make some of the parts BMF prints can cost up to half a million dollars. This makes 3D printing a more feasible option.
BMF currently has about 100 machines deployed in a range of industries and research labs, but these are mainly used to prototype new products.
However last fall, BMF released the latest version of its printing platform – microArch S240 – which it says is the first and only microprecision 3D printer capable of short-run industrial production.
The platform’s production volume depends on the size of the part being made; for a part about 3 millimeters long, the microArch 240 can produce around 100,000 units per year.
The S240 is BMF’s largest foray into industrial-scale production so far, but Kawola acknowledges that further innovation will be needed for BMF to start making parts for higher-volume products.
Image and content: BMF Technologies/MIT News