Disclosure: This blog post is sponsored by Boston Micro Fabrication.

As technology evolves, we see amazing results arising from the convergence of many types of innovation. The combination of hardware and software advances has resulted in creating an entirely new world – one that hovers between reality and fantasy.

There are many other technology developments that have been able to make this type of progress a reality and one theme we see across almost all industries that manufacture products is miniaturization. If you look at any piece of technology, you can see its evolution from large, clunky and not very sophisticated – TV’s that also doubled as actual pieces of furniture, cell phones the same size as a cordless phone, and computers that took up entire rooms. Fast forward to today and the only limitation to making things smaller is the ability to cost-effectively manufacture components that keep getting smaller and smaller.

Miniaturization is the trend to manufacture even smaller mechanical, optical and electronic products, medical devices, and other high-value parts.  This trend continues to be strong, with year-over-year growth in many markets. One of the limiting factors to miniaturization is the inability of traditional manufacturing methods like injection molding and CNC machining to effectively and economically produce smaller and smaller parts. 

Where does 3D Printing come into play? Additive Manufacturing (AM), or 3D Printing has been around now for over 30 years.  For a long time, there were only a few technologies available and applications were generally limited to prototyping.  In recent years however, a new wave of innovation has emerged, extending beyond engineering and design into short and medium scale production applications.  The AM market is now estimated to be $10B per year with continued strong growth forecasted.

Past advances in AM have come short in meeting the needs of small parts, printing them at a resolution, accuracy, precision and speed that made them a viable option for end-use production parts. That has all changed. Additive Manufacturing and Miniaturization are now converging – in a very meaningful and impactful way. 

Boston Micro Fabrication has a patented 3D printing technology called Projection Micro Stereolithography (PµSL) which is capable of achieving resolution of 2µm~50µm and tolerance of +/- 5µm~25µm, thus providing mold-free, ultra-high-resolution fast prototyping and end part capability. 

Many leading AR/VR technology companies have started using micro 3D printing as a method for producing various micro-precision components as an alternative to traditional fabrication methods – finding huge time and cost savings.

Companies discover BMF and do not entirely believe we can deliver what we advertise.  It has become very obvious that one of the areas holding back miniaturization in consumer electronics is the ability to produce the micro components necessary to package the critical components.  A VR headset is the perfect example.  If you break down a VR headset there are input devices, the VR Engine and output devices all packaged into a headset.  From the user perspective, the smaller the better.  A user wants the best experience, with the greatest comfort.  This could be said for many consumer electronics.  BMF is providing incredible value in producing the packaging, housings, harnesses, connectors and enclosures with a level of precision and accuracy that is necessary to assemble the critical systems and components.

Think about a lens holder that is 4mm3 requiring a 1mm lens to be seated into a recessed opening requiring tolerances of 15 microns. A huge advantage when iterating and developing is to be able to purchase or fabricate parts like this rapidly and cost-effectively that meet the dimensional and mechanical requirements to test and validate results. The amount of sensors, cameras, lenses, speakers, microphones, cables, chips, processors and connectors packed into such a complex device is truly amazing.  The growth in the AR/VR market and pace of innovation is opening up applications that were not even imagined a decade ago.  With this comes challenges for manufacturing to scale at the same pace.  BMF enables companies in this competitive space to address development challenges limited by current microfabrication methods, but also allows companies to explore the potential of pushing the limits on miniaturization by expanding the boundaries otherwise thought impossible with 3D printing. 

For more information or to request a benchmark part, please visit www.bmf3d.com.

Laura Galloway

I’m the Director of Marketing at Boston Micro Fabrication (BMF) where I work to educate the world about the applications, benefits and value of micro 3D printing, specifically Projection Micro Stereolithography (PµSL).