Polymer and composite structures can be 3D-printed at the micron scale in a new development from Optomec, which sees it as an enabling technology in the fledgling market for embedded electronics.
“This breakthrough has significant potential to reduce the cost and size of next-generation products used in the electronics and bio-medical industries,” US-based additive manufacturer Optomec said in a statement.
The firm makes Aerosol Jet Technology for printed electronics and lens equipment for 3D printing metals.
The development of micro-printing with polymers and composites was enabled by combining Aerosol Jet with a proprietary in-situ curing capability.
Optomec said: “Unlike other high resolution 3D printing approaches that deposit material globally, ie in a powder bed, and then cure locally to define a pattern, the Optomec method relies on both local deposition and local curing. This makes the process more economical, in terms of material consumption, but is also key to enabling the highest resolution features available.”
Using the technology, free-form 3D structures with no support structures can be printed at the micron-scale from materials including photopolymers and “certain composites”, said the company.
The 3D micro-structures can be metallised with conformal 3D conductive traces and printed functional components, such as antennas and sensors, to create fully functional 3D electronic components.
The process steps all take place in one machine, which optimises the fabrication process and reduces manufacturing stages and material usage.
“This breakthrough in 3D printing technology extends additive manufacturing to the creation of micron scale, free-form polymer structures and smart devices,” said Mike O'Reilly, Optomec director Aerosol Jet product management.
Some customers had already developed applications for smart devices and micro-fluidic applications, said the company.
It added: “Aerosol Jet 3D micro-structure printing is capable of ultra-high resolutions with lateral features sizes down to 10 microns, and lateral and vertical build resolutions from 1 micron to 100 nanometres respectively.
“Aspect ratios of more than 100:1 have been achieved. Additionally, such 3D micro-structures can be printed onto existing components and products, such as semiconductor chips, medical devices or industrial parts.”