At universities, faculty want to provide undergraduates with access to advanced microfabrication equipment that doesn’t require a cleanroom, hazardous or expensive chemicals, or time-consuming preparation and execution. Makerspaces share these concerns. Graduate students need access to shared platforms for high-quality research, but for projects that are smaller in scope and more varied than semiconductor batch processing, the basis for many microfabrication technologies. There are a number of factors to consider when deciding what 3D printers to use for education and research.
Why Not Current Methods? Cost + Time + Hazards
Traditionally, microfabrication has used micro molding, micro machining, photolithography, or etching. Deciding what 3D printers to use in education and research has other factors to consider.
Issues with current fabrication methods include:
- Micro molding and micro machining require tooling that isn’t cost-effective for research or education projects
- Photolithography is a time-consuming process with many different steps
- Wet etching requires large amounts of etchant chemicals that require disposal and replacement
- Dry etching is less expensive but results in microfabricated parts that have different material properties in different directions
Thin film deposition can also be used for microfabrication, but there are two main processes: physical vapor deposition (PVD) and chemical vapor deposition (CVD). PVD generally requires skilled operators, a potential challenge in undergraduate settings. The capital costs are significant, too. CVD uses chemical precursors that may be hazardous or toxic. To produce films correctly, users must meet complex requirements.
When considering what type of 3D printers to consider for education – speed, precision and safety are some of the factors that rank high on the list.
Why Micro 3D Printing? Speed + Precision + Safety
3D printing can produce parts quickly, efficiently, and without tooling, yet not all 3D printing technologies can achieve the small sizes and fine features required by microfabrication. For example, traditional stereolithography (SLA) produces parts measured in millimeters that have a resolution of around 50 μm. Two-photon polymerization based direct laser writing (TPP-DLW) provides precision at the nanometer scale, but it’s slow and prohibitively expensive for many institutions looking to add 3D printers to their labs.
Fortunately, BMF’s projection micro stereolithography (PμSL) technology:
- Produces micrometer-sized parts with high precision, resolution, and accuracy at faster speeds
- Allows students to learn to microfabricate parts that would have been impractical or impossible to produce just a few years ago
- Gives researchers the ability to control project costs while microfabricating small parts with 2 μm resolution and 10 μm at scale
- Provides effective experimental capabilities for colleges, universities, research institutions, and makerspaces
BMF’s 3D printer fits on a tabletop and uses a closed path that can effectively prevent the leakage of UV radiation. Nitrile gloves are worn while working with resins and cleaning can be accomplished with a common solvent such as isopropyl alcohol. Integral software is accessible from a nearby dedicated computer and provides robust capabilities.
Nottingham University, one of the largest and most advanced additive centers in the world purchased a BMF 3D Printer late last year.
“We are very excited to own the 1st S130 Micro Stereolithography 3D printer in Europe. The S130 machine from BMF has a good compensation between printing resolution and processing speed, which provides us a fantastic tool in production of customized geometries with a volume of centimetres at a few micron resolution. The arrival of this machine will help boost our current research in 3D printed electronics as well as biomedical directions.”
– Dr. Yinfeng He, University of Nottingham