What is the current state of microscale 3D printing?

BY Nita Vaidya-Zannino

Microfabrication is the process of fabricating miniature structures of micrometer scales and smaller. Historically, microfabrication was first used in the electronics industry to miniaturize the size of devices. In fact, over the years, you might have noticed your electronic devices have been getting smaller and sleeker. Component sizes that were in tens of micrometers became single-digit micrometers, and then hundreds of nanometers, and then went down to a few tens of nanometers, where they stand today. As a result, what used to be called microfabrication was rebranded as nanofabrication, although the governing principles have remained essentially the same. To meet the challenge of shrinking component size in the electronics industry, new tools and techniques are continuously being developed. One of these techniques is microscale 3D printing. So what applications are enabled by microscale additive manufacturing? And more generally what are the benefits of micro 3D printing?

First of all, we should note that in the world of additive manufacturing, the electronics industry is one of the least well versed in the technology. If we consider that aerospace was one of the first sectors to adopt and develop 3D printing, electronics is essentially the opposite. Nevertheless, additive manufacturing can bring benefits and new capabilities to this sector by enabling a new-level of customization for micro and nanoscale components.

To conclude, it’s pretty evident that the wider adoption of micro 3D printing will meet the same hurdles as other additive manufacturing technologies. John Kawola, CEO of Boston Micro Fabrication told us: “We don’t believe the challenges of wider adoption of microscale 3D printing are any different from the challenges of wider adoption of 3D printing in general. 3D printing across all sizes will continue to be valuable for engineering and design prototyping. Microscale 3D printing brings some new tools to the engineers who previously couldn’t effectively prototype at that scale. In addition, the production of microscale parts are typically quite expensive, thus increasing the value of considering 3D printing for production of end use parts.”

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