Since it began shipping 3D printers in 2018, Boston Micro Fabrication (BMF) has seen users advance the application of the company’s small-scale, high-resolution additive manufacturing (AM) process from prototyping to end-use parts. To further disrupt the way that sub-centimeter components are made, BMF is now opening a new research & development center in San Diego, Calif. There, not only will the firm’s projection micro stereolithography (PµSL) technology be matured even more, but new businesses and products utilizing PµSL will be incubated to drive micro-3D printing forward in the market.
Micro-3D Printing at the BMF Research Institute
According to the company, BMF has shipped over 300 units since it began fulfilling orders in 2018. The technology has been used for such applications as prototyping, research and development, and production qualification in fields including electronics, optics/photonics, medical devices, microfluidics and life sciences. Now, because the ecosystem around micro-3D printing has matured to the level that end parts are being made with PµSL, BMF has entered a new phase, driven in part by its recent round of $43 million in funding.
Led by Dr. Chunguang Xia, the company’s CTO and co-founder, the BMF Research Institute in San Diego will aid in the development and incubation of end-product concepts that are facilitated with PµSL. To do so, it will collaborate with other BMF engineering groups and research centers in Shenzhen, Chongqing, Tokyo and Boston. BMF CEO John Kawola explained:
“After being in the market for a few years, we now see that there are multiple end-products that are uniquely enabled by our platform. We are currently working with researchers, product designers and other collaboration partners on new product ideas. We recently raised additional capital to continue the development of our platform. But these funds will also be used for end-product development and commercialization. We expect these two legs will be complementary to each other with the broader goal of unleashing the power of additive manufacturing in micro-manufacturing.”
Building a Market for Micro-3D Printing
As novel production technology, AM doesn’t necessarily have the smoothest entry point into a manufacturing workflow. Its many benefits, such as the ability to introduce geometric complexity into parts that can be made on demand, aren’t immediately understood. At the same time, those most likely to grasp these benefits may not be in a position to facilitate the use of 3D printing to produce components. That is, entrepreneurs, designers and engineers might have ideas for additively manufacturing end parts, while executives and decision-makers may not.
This is even more the case with a unique 3D printing technology like PµSL. BMF’s platform addresses a niche in AM by producing parts that are a centimeter or smaller in scale, meaning that they’re utility may be for highly specialized applications. Therefore, to introduce micro-3D printing into a company’s production strategy is likely that much more difficult.
In the AM sector as a whole, the sales, consulting, and engineering departments of a 3D printer manufacturer overlap such that a salesperson is also an applications engineer who consults with clients to aid a company in the use of their machines. They help them determine the best use case, parts, and materials for their 3D printing equipment.
For these reasons, BMF has initiated what could be a crucial move for the adoption of its technology. There are several firms offering small-scale 3D printing, but the technology will remain in lab environments without greater stimulus. Micro-3D printing is utilized for such specialized and emerging applications, such as microfluidics, that simply introducing something like PµSL to the world isn’t enough. Rather than solely launch an advisory service or consultancy, BMF is actually creating the market for its products.
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