The Rise of Micro 3D Printing
There are two major types of manufacturing: additive, where a part is made by adding material or subtractive, where a part is made by carving out material. 3D printing is a type of additive manufacturing that builds an object from a computer-aided design (CAD) file. The concept of 3D printing was first presented in the 1970, and the industry has been evolving ever since. 3D printers first hit the market in the 1980s but were used mostly in industrial applications. Today 3D printers are widely available and used by both businesses and individuals.
Image via BMF
Micro 3D Printing
Since the 1980s, most of the innovations around 3D printing revolved around printing larger parts. However, as products start to get smaller and smaller, 3D printing technology needs to adapt to accommodate this shift. Cue the rise of micro 3D printing.
Micro 3D printing is a type of additive manufacturing that produces ultra high-precision, micro-sized parts. Current 3D printing technologies that support micro 3D printing include SLA, DLP and a combination of the two called Projection Micro Stereolithography (PµSL). PµSL, in particular, can obtain resolutions down to 2µm and printing tolerances +/- 10µm. Micro 3D printing can be used for rapid prototyping and production in many industries.
Uses for Micro 3D Printing
Micro 3D printing is useful in many different industries. Here are five industries that can benefit from micro 3D printing:
- Medical Devices – 3D printing is already widely used in the medical community to treat patients and optimize patient care. The combination of biocompatible materials and high-resolution micro 3D printing opens up new possibilities for using 3D printing in the medical industry. From stents to surgical needles and many other parts, micro 3D printing provides a great option for fabricating single-use medical devices.
- Electronic Connectors – As electronics continue to shrink, the connectors and other parts inside the electronics need to shrink as well. Traditional manufacturing methods cannot cost-effectively make these small parts. Micro 3D printing offers cost-effective methods for prototyping and producing the small parts needed to build small electronics.
- Microfluidics – Microfludic technologies have various production and development applications. Lab-on-Chip tools provide medical researcher with an innovative way to mimic the human body. Micro 3D printing allows for more accurate and complex microfluidic systems.
- Micro Mechanical Devices (MEMS) – MEMs rely on small, high-precision components to perform well. It is very difficult and expensive to mold or machine these small, high-precision parts. Using 3D printing when creating MEMs opens up the ability to design new features and geometries that have historically been impossible. Since 3D printing MEMs is more economically viable, it also opens the industry up to new commercial applications.
- Education and Research – The world continues to evolve and innovate through students and researchers. As the trend towards miniaturization continues, innovators will continue to discover new ways to shrink products. 3D printing allows students and researchers to quickly and cost-effectively prototype and tweak ideas.
As micro 3D printing continues to grow and evolve, more industries will find it useful as an important avenue for innovation.