Most famously used by the smugglers Han Solo and Chewbacca during the Galactic Civil War, the Millennium Falcon has outrun Imperial starships, made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs, and helped the rebels destroy the Death Star. It has also been replicated numerous times and even 3D printed at scale. Now, Microlight3D, an innovative French company that develops 2D and 3D micro-printing systems, has 3D printed a tiny replica of the spaceship for the release of the second season of The Mandalorian and to launch the “Jedi Masters use green lasers” campaign.
When the highly anticipated series arrived on the newly launched Disney streaming service, Disney+, a year ago, it managed to tap into Star Wars nostalgia that fans were craving and became incredibly important to the original saga plot. For the second season premiere on October 30, 2020, engineers at Microlight3D decided they would use a two-photon 3D printing process for a version of the Millennium Falcon that is just 100 microns, or .1mm long—“thinner than a Wookie’s hair,” as Microlight3D described it. The company also 3D printed two X-Wing fighters, the signature combat craft of the Resistance’s Starfighter Corps, and a baby Yoda, one of the franchise’s most lovable characters, which quickly turned into a worldwide phenomenon.
At only 70.8 micrometers wide and 23.4 micrometers high, the Millennium Falcon was 3D printed using Microlight3D’s µFAB-3D-Advanced system, which relies on an industrial sub-nanosecond green laser, instead of the femtosecond red lasers others may use for their micro 3D printers. This was critical to the creative process: while the forces of darkness from the franchise use red lasers (like Darth Vader and all of the Sith), the firm’s engineers wielded green lasers for their 3D micro-printers, just like Jedi masters. Star Wars fans will certainly appreciate the switch from red to green lasers, and the company showed that it is possible to obtain extremely precise and complex micro-parts with its technology.
The printing system uses the company’s newly developed polymer material, called “Green-A” photoresist, which is specially adapted to green lasers that operate at a 532 nm wavelength. This gives engineers an enhanced resolution that is even more precise than red lasers, at a 800nm wavelength, as the resolution is directly proportional to wavelength. It also provides better reliability because these industrial lasers last a very long time with no need for yearly maintenance.
The final structure has such ultra-high resolution and excellent mechanical properties required for its micro-scale, that by zooming in the cockpit, it is even possible to distinguish the seats on which Han Solo and Chewbacca sit. Moreover, to fit into this Millennium Falcon – 400,000 times smaller than the original – Han Solo would have to be five microns high, the size of a bacterium!
It took Microlight3D only 50 minutes to print the mini spacecraft, and the solvent bath to remove the unpolymerized resin another 10 minutes. No pre or post-bake, or any other post-processing, nor support material were required. According to Microlight3D co-founder Philippe Paliard, the piece was perfectly printed in only one take, but then, in order to capture an image of the craft under an electron microscope, the team had to fix the vessel on a glass substrate. The result is stunning: not only can we see the detailed shape of the chassis, but also front mandibles, weapons, and hull.
The two-photon polymerization (2PP) technology used in Microlight3D’s micro-manufacturing machines is the result of 15 years of fundamental research at the University of Grenoble Alpes (UGA), in France, with the team’s first scientific publications dating from 2002. The researchers have demonstrated that the control of laser pulses in the sub-nanosecond regime, together with a careful mastering of the non-linear laser-polymer interaction, can create ultra-narrow and reproducible voxels, which is the base for high-resolution and high-smoothness 3D printing. Furthermore, they demonstrated that the voxel could be positioned, and moved freely, anywhere in the volume of the polymer, slashing away the layer-by-layer approach of classical additive manufacturing technologies, and opening the way to a generative fabrication process.
Microlight3D’s open 3D microfabrication platform, μFAB-3D, is geared toward research applications such as surface structuration, metamaterials, microfluidics, and scaffolds for cell culture. It’s compatible with a wide range of materials, including biomaterials. Moreover, this kind of innovation allows Microlight3D to bring 3D printers to the market with unique characteristics, in terms of highest printing-resolution, compactness, flexibility of use, and reliability.
Star Wars remains one of the most meaningful and dramatic franchises in Hollywood, and the Millennium Falcon features so much in the story that it has turned into one of the most famous starships of all time. Microlight3D’s unique green-lasered mini replica of the memorable craft will enrapture fans, as new possibilities of old time favorites continue to keep the memory of Star Wars’ far away galaxy alive.
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