Founded in 2016, Boston Micro Fabrication (BMF) specializes in precision 3D printing on the microscale with its patented Projection Micro Stereolithography (PµSL) technology. The startup is a spin-out of MIT, established to commercialize Professor Nicholas Fang‘s PµSL research, and now has offices in Shenzhen, Singapore, and Tokyo in addition to Boston. BMF debuted its high-resolution microArch 3D printer in the winter of 2020. Now, it’s introducing a new microscale AM system: the microArch S240, and said to be the only micro-precision 3D printer for short-run industrial production.
Just like its predecessor, the new microArch S240 uses PµSL technology, which uses a single flash of UV light at microscale resolution to achieve rapid photopolymerization of an entire layer of liquid polymer. By combining controlled processing technology, light, and customizable optics, this technology is able to fabricate extremely precise and accurate high-resolution 3D prints that are 100 times smaller than a human hair. This makes it ideal for creating prototypes and end-use parts in the microfluidics, MEMS, electronics, medical device manufacturing, and biotech fields. But, thanks to an advanced spreading mechanism and a larger build volume of 100 X 100 X 75MM / 750 cm3, this new system has print speeds that are up to ten times faster than the original microArch, which means it can produce bigger parts, or achieve a higher throughput of smaller ones, that still have 10 µm resolution, +/- 25 µm tolerance.
“Until now, this coveted combination of quality, strength and resolution had been missing from industrial production, particularly for use cases that require high precision and micron level resolution. With the microArch S240, users can finally make end-use micro parts at speeds that are required for production, with resolution, accuracy and precision that is true to CAD,” stated John Kawola, CEO – Global of BMF, in a press release. “Smaller parts no longer need to mean bigger headaches or bigger price tags for manufacturers and engineers.”
Another feature of the microArch S240 is its ability to print using advanced, industrial-grade ceramics and polymers, like the new, durable BMF RG material from BASF Forward AM’s line of Ultracur photopolymer resins. This high-strength, functional engineering material was developed by BASF and BMF for the microArch S240, so customers can create parts for production applications.
“The new BMF RG material from the Forward AM Ultracur3D® photopolymer resin line will enable users to achieve ultra-high resolution of their parts. The microArch™ 240 printer is addressing a market that has previously been unserved. This collaboration will now enable customers, especially in the medical industry, to assemble complex items that were too small to handle on previous printing platforms,” said Oleksandra Blacka, Business Development Manager – Photopolymers, Medical & Dental, BASF.
The new microArch S240 is also able to print industrial materials with attributes, such as sharp edges, mirror finishes, and smooth channels, that can easily mirror end-use parts. Additionally, because the system is able to handle materials with a higher molecular weight, and viscosities of up to 20,000Cp, that can fabricate stronger functional parts, it truly seems like a good fit for 3D printing industrial-grade products.
“We chose BMF’s microArch 3D Printer due to its ability to replicate critical micro features. Their unique Projection Micro Stereolithography (PµSL) technology prints 3D parts with ultra-high resolution and accuracy, which is key to our business,” explained Donna Bibber, VP of Business Development, Isometric Micro Molding. “This is the first 3D printer we’ve encountered that can print micro-precision parts, with the dimensional accuracy and precision that our customers require at this stage of product development. We have put the BMF parts through the same rigorous CT scanning inspection process of our micro molded components and were amazed that dimensionally the parts fell within the tolerances required. Our customers have been equally amazed.”
There’s been a noticeable increase in competition for nanoscale and microscale 3D printing systems recently, and no wonder—with applications in art, bioengineering, electronics, optics, and more, this kind of technology is pretty important. TU Wien has spun out two different microscale 3D printing startups, Cubicure and UpNano, in the last two years alone, and BASF is also getting involved in this type of niche AM market, by collaborating with BMF to create the new engineering RG material. It will be interesting to see whether any other big names invest in microscale 3D printing soon.
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