Boston Micro Fabrication, a startup of Professor Nicholas Fang, uses a new optical focus method to manufacture ultra-precision printers.
The hardware of many products, such as computer chips, smartphone components, and camera components, is constantly being miniaturized. This trend has led companies to come up with new ways to make the parts that move our world.
Entered Boston Microfabrication (BMF). It is a company co-founded by. MIT In 2016, Professor Nicholas Fang improved the resolution and accuracy of 3D printing. Today, BMF is helping customers seek smaller components by offering new types of printers used in the manufacture of electronic, medical and microfluidic chips.
The company’s machines use technology co-developed by Fang to print millimeter-sized products with micron-scale details.
According to the company, the printer will allow you to create new parts with small, complex shapes and entirely new features.
“You can print what you can’t mold,” says BMF CEO John Kawola. “The reason many people think of additive manufacturing is that they are not bound by the limits of molding. It gives companies the freedom to design new things.”
Micro technology that gives a big impact
Fang has been studying the properties of light and microfabrication for over 20 years. For the past 10 years he has been an MIT faculty member.
Much of his work done in his nanophotonics and 3D nanomanufacturing labs is the study of common 3D printing approaches that cure or cure materials by exposing them to light. One such approach, Digital Light Processing (DLP), uses flash light from a projector to cure each layer of printed material.
BMF uses a special lens to focus the projected light on a smaller scale.
“This process has many similarities to a regular microscope, except that it provides a digital image instead of shining a uniform light on the microscope,” Fang explains BMF’s approach. ..
BMF has also developed a new software design and control system to accurately move the printing platform during production.
To start forming the business, fans worked with MIT’s venture mentoring services and received guidance from MIT graduates and other faculty members. In 2017, the company was selected to pass the STEX25 Startup Accelerator and is operated by the MIT Startup Exchange. According to Fang, this experience helped BMF think about the commercial opportunities it should pursue and introduce its founders to partners like Johnson and Johnson at MIT’s Industrial Liaison Program.
Many of BMF’s early customers were university laboratories interested in pushing the boundaries of DLP printing. Since then, BMF has released a printing platform that has steadily increased production speed.
“It’s about having technology that keeps you in top shape. Accuracy Surface finishing is possible by doing what is feasible in the production environment, “says Kawola.
BMF states that its printing technology, called projection microstereolithography, has made it the only 3D printing company to match the accuracy of injection molding. This eliminates the need for customers to order small molds for new products and prototypes. This process can be time consuming and costly. Therefore, 3D printing is often the case. Is a cheaper and simpler production option.
Demand for smaller final products is also directly driving BMF’s market strategy. Products that companies have commissioned BMF to manufacture include microfluidic chips, surgical and medical diagnostic tools, virtual reality headset components, and hearing aids.
“I think the hearing aid example really shows that demand for end-use applications is driving the industry in a more decentralized and personalized way,” says Fang.
Scale up production, not scale
BMF currently has approximately 100 machines deployed in various industries and laboratories. While companies primarily use printers to prototype new products, BMF released the latest version of its printing platform, the microArch S240, last fall.
Platform production depends on the size of the parts you manufacture, but according to Kawala, the microArch 240 can produce about 100,000 pieces per year for parts that are about 3 millimeters long.
The S240 is BMF’s largest entry into industrial scale production to date. Kawola recognizes that further innovation is needed when BMF begins manufacturing parts for mass-produced products.
“When mass production is possible, like many consumer products [printing speed] Perhaps it needs to be faster, “says Kawola. “But we don’t think it needs to be 10 times faster. When it’s 3 to 5 times faster, it’s starting to be economically viable for production. [ranges in the hundreds of thousands to millions per year]”
The founders don’t expect it to take years to reach these milestones. The main reason is that we believe BMF will continue to benefit from industry innovations that use the same components as printers.
“The good thing about hardware-related industries such as 3D printing and robotics is that we can leverage processing power to reduce costs and facilitate AI and machine vision,” says Kawola. “The DLP projector used as the light source is the same as that used in laptop projectors and home projectors. 4k resolution becomes the actual industrial application of DLP projectors, 4k resolution is cheaper and resolution is higher. As you can buy 4k, the zone suddenly quadruples, which means you can basically move 4x faster. “
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