In Episode #5 of the AR/VR Magazine Podcast, we interview John Kawola, who is the CEO of Boston Micro Fabrication, which is a manufacturer of micro 3D printers. John talks about BMF’s patented 3D printing technology called Projection Micro Stereolithography or PULSE, as well as various applications for Micro 3D Printing for the immersive technology hardware industry.

Show Notes

Today’s Sponsor

This episode is sponsored by Boston Micro Fabrication. Learn about applications for Micro 3D Printing for the world of AR/VR and how it’s a method for producing various micro-precision components as an alternative to traditional fabrication methods.

For more information about BMF, please go to www.bmf3d.com

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Full Podcast Transcript:

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Hey everybody, this is Sean from AVR Magazine, and today I’m talking with John Kawola from Boston Micro Fabrication, which is a manufacturer of micro 3D printers with a special focus on AR and VR related components.

So with that said, I’ll see you in the episode!

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If you like this podcast, be sure to hit the subscribe button. You can also follow us on FacebookInstagramTwitterLinkedIn and YouTube in order to stay up to date on all the latest episodes.

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Today’s podcast is brought to you by Boston Micro Fabrication. Boston Micro Fabrication Manufacturers Micro Precision 3D Printers. The printers are powered by a patented 3D printing technology called projection Micro Stereolithography, or Pulse.

Pulse is capable of achieving resolution of two microns to 50 microns and tolerances of plus or minus five microns to twenty five microns, thus providing mold free, ultra high resolution for fast prototyping and part capability.

Many leading AVR technology companies 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. BMF enables companies in this competitive space to address development challenges limited by current micro fabrication 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.

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For more information, please visit www.bmf3d.com

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Welcome to the AR/VR Magazine podcast. Your source for news, trends and analysis of the AR, VR and immersive technology industry.

This podcast is brought to you by the Robot Spaceship Podcast Network. For more info and other great podcast series, go to RobotSpaceship.com and subscribe.

And now your host, Sean Early.

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Hey, everybody, this is Sean from AR/VR Magazine, and today we are talking to John Kawola from Boston Micro Fabrication, which is a manufacturer of micro-precision 3D printers, which have some pretty interesting applications for the immersive technology hardware industry.

So John’s going to tell us all about that.

So, John, great to have you on the show.

Yeah, thanks, Sean. Happy to be here.

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So tell me about Buster Micro fabrication. I mean, what do you guys do? And maybe give me a brief intro on the company. Brief history.

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Yeah, sure thing. So, Boston Micro Fabrication, we use BMF for short, was founded not too long ago in twenty seventeen. And it was an idea spun out of MIT here in the Boston area. That’s where I live. And it’s using additive manufacturing technology which is often referred to as autography or DLP, which uses a laser and resins to make parts and 3D printing. Additive manufacturing in general has been around for a long time now.

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Twenty five to thirty years of automotive and medical device and aerospace and consumer goods and use for prototyping and increasingly manufacturing. But one of the areas that has historically been missing is in additive is the ability to to get down to very high precision parts. So these are typically parts on the order of features that are maybe 50 microns tolerances in the tens of microns range. And that was up until BMF wasn’t really achievable, even with the best of the the 3D printing technologies.

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And so that’s that was really the the thesis behind how this company was formed. It was started in twenty seventeen. We have operations in Boston, in China, in Japan and in Europe. We’re still early stage company, about 50 people and getting our technology out there and the the industry is broadly that we address are the industries that demand those that type of precision. So this tends to be things like medical device microfluidics for drug discovery. There’s a bunch of filtration applications in both sort of gas separation and in medical applications, electrical connectors.

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When you get down to very small electrical connectors, MEMS sensors, those types of devices are increasingly interested in that level precision. OK, I mean, I’ll have to up to be perfectly honest, I mean, my experience with 3D printers is pretty limited. I mean, I worked at a company for a while back and they had a maker, but when they first came out and so that’s kind of my experience. I mean, we print it out like some big clunky owl shape, you know, and it took all day.

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Got it. We kind of had to, like, carve away at it with the knife. So it’s still like an owl. And I checked out your website and I mean, these are this is light years away from anything I’ve experienced with that before.

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I mean, there are pictures on your website of parts that are like the size of the head of a pencil, like a fully like some valve or something. I don’t know what that is, but it’s so tiny and it’s so immaculate. I was, like, amazed. I can’t believe we can get this small these days. I mean, that was that’s that’s pretty incredible. I mean, maybe maybe kind of go into a little bit for people aren’t aren’t familiar with 3D printing in general.

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I mean, how how do your machines sort of differ from that whole sort of wide spectrum?

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Yeah, yeah. So they’re so as I said, the maker bots actually first started showing up around ten years ago, but before that they’re starting in the in the nineties there were a few core, I’ll call them methods so we can talk about 3D printing or additive broadly.

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But there’s a there’s a handful probably like four or five different methods of 3D printing. Some are extruding plastic. That’s what a maker does. Some are spreading powder and sintering it with a laser. Some are using a resin and then curing it with a light source. That’s that’s more similar to what BMS does. There are technologies using plastics. They’re technologies now using powdered metal. And a lot of these these large range of technologies are for different applications. Some some are good at making large metal parts.

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Some are good at making very precise parts like our technology, things like make robots. The whole idea about a make robot is that it was only a few thousand dollars to get a machine. It’s useful for engineers or schools. So the landscape is is I wouldn’t say it’s complete, but it’s pretty full right now with lots of different technologies that are out there. What would be ECMWF has been focused on is given all of these technologies out there, there was still a gap.

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And of even of the best of the technologies that they’re out there with the most trained operators, we’re not able to get these level of tolerances and precision. And so for people who were in those industries, like in electrical components or medical device and one, they if they just wanted a prototype, they’d have a hard time prototyping because they couldn’t get the the performance that they’re looking for. And then, too, if they wanted to start to consider 3-D printing as an alternative for for real manufacturing, just that wasn’t there.

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I mean, these are these are typically components that in manufacturing are made through processes like micro injection molding or micro micro machining or or a few techniques that are very used in the semiconductor industry, like etching and photo photography and bonding. These are all manufacturing techniques that are used today to make these types of small components. And increasingly there will be opportunities for additive to displace those methods.

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OK, so so I guess for for layman’s terms, it’s sort of like there’s there’s there’s there’s a high level where you do have a I forgot the term.

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You describe it like the MacRobert that that injects the plastic on on layers. And then the you have sort of a you have sort of a solution that you actually inject light into and it creates it in a much more micro.

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Yeah. So maybe I can describe a little bit, maybe describe a little bit how the BMF technology works just so, just so you can visualize the whole. Yeah.

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So what we so we are whole the the chemistry behind what happens here is we have a we have liquid resin and it’s what’s often called a photo polymer. So it means that it’s a it’s a resin. And then when you expose it to light a light source and that light source could be a laser or it could be some other light source, we don’t use a laser. We we use a DLP projector. So a digital projector, which is that’s used in lots of other sort of VR like like a laptop projector, for example, when you have your conference room, that’s a DLP projector.

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That’s a great example of a DLP projector. So we’re using a Delp light source and then flashing onto the vat of resin and we’re flashing the An image and that image. Is a slice of the pie chart. OK, so we we flash an image that what happens is when the light hits the resin, it cures it, it solidifies that resin and then the platform moves down one layer and then we flash again. And that’s how you build up the part layer by layer in an additive way.

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So a good way to visualize that. If you were, you’re actually making just a sphere, a solid ball. The first layer would be a dot and then the second layer would be slightly larger and larger and larger and larger, and then it would get smaller and smaller and smaller. And then the last layer would be a dot. And that’s how you that’s additive manufacturing. OK, now that’s done. And so I guess you could.

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You could. You can print like multiple items in sort of one vat correctly or yes or no, that’s the advantage of using a projector versus a laser. So laser and laser, you could also print multiple in one. That that’s OK. But you’re sort of drawing the whole part. The point is going around and sort of a curing point. The advantage of the DLP approach is it flashes all at once. Right. Or you’re getting you’re getting a speed advantage, a big advantage using DLP.

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So and then the special sauce with with BMF is we so we take this basic concept of a vat of resin and a projector, and then we do a few other things. We have high precision optics that help to really focus the the image. And when we’re focusing, we’re mean. We’re getting down to a what we describe as an optical resolution of between two and 10 microns. OK, but that actually means the pixel itself in the projector is either two or 10 microns, depending on what form you buy.

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Wow. And then the other thing that we control is we have to move. We have to move the the that around, because if you want to make a larger part, you want to make more parts at once. We need to be able to move it in the X, Y and Z. And if our customers are demanding not only very high high resolution, but they also require very high accuracy and precision. So you have to be able to maintain those levels of accuracy.

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And so we highly control the movement in the X, Y, Z. So a good example. For example, people in medical device and they are VR components, they require both high resolution, meaning very crisp and small features, but also great parts. People in jewelry, for example, don’t care that much about accuracy. They care about resolution, but if it’s off by a bunch, you don’t can’t really tell, it doesn’t really matter. But in some of the technical markets, like they don’t care about those things right now, you can you can sort of print in different types of material as well.

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I mean, yeah. So so the whole the whole point, actually, the whole point. The big point and really all of 3D printing is that for one, for prototyping, for prototyping applications. What most people care about is, am I getting the geometry that I that that effectively mimics the the final part that I want to make. Right. And I get it relatively quickly, relatively cost effectively. And is the material strong enough that I can hold it in my hand or fit it together or do some basic testing?

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So for prototyping the demand is not really that that tough. As long as the part is pretty good because for prototyping, it doesn’t need to last for a long time. Once you may just look at it and throw it away. That still might be valuable to you. But as you move into production, the materials that you’re using to prototype, whether it’s the materials you’re using on the 3D printer for production, whether it’s plastic or metal, they need to pretty closely mimic the materials that are being used in production today.

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OK, so, for example, if these parts are normally a polycarbonate or an ABS plastic that is normally injection molded, that means our 3D, our photo polymers need to come pretty close to mimicking that performance. OK, and that’s what we endeavor to do. So we have a range of materials from a high strength material to a high temperature material to a more more flexible material to a some biocompatible what biocompatible materials for medical device applications. So we have a sort of a library of material, different materials that people can use with the goal of mimicking the engineering plastics that they use today.

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OK, so it could be it could be any sort of type of substance simulation, I guess.

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I mean, you can do glass as well, or we can we can’t quite do glass. That’s a good question, but it depends on what what the application is. So if we can do, we can do a part. It’s not glass, but it is optically clear that I guess that was my question. So it is very often our customers will say, can you do glass or can you do silicone or can you do a certain type of plastic?

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And technically, we’re not doing those. Exactly, but what we’re trying to do is, is replicate what they care about, might be quality, might be flexibility, might be high temperature performance and whatever is most important to them.

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Yeah, I have just thinking about the opticals aspect of it. Yeah. So, so, so when we think about in optical applications we, we really can’t do lens quality, OK, at this point and, but we can do a lot of the other things and maybe right into that a little bit more when we talk about RVO.

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Yeah sure. I mean I guess that just leaves you the question. I mean, obviously VR is sort of a you know, it’s it’s been around a long time. It started big, clunky, you know, giant things the military used and kind of worked down to the Oculus headsets. And now we’re getting into the the czar sort of glasses mobile end of things. So things are downsizing, obviously, and it’s it’s a natural progression that’s needed in the industry.

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So I imagine the services like yours in printers and devices to to miniaturize are are very important for that process to for us to sort of reach this this this mass adoption rate that we’re trying to hit with immersive tech. So, I mean, maybe maybe get into a little bit about that. Where where are you on that end of things? I mean, obviously, you make very small part. So I mean, that’s clear. But I mean, what can you elaborate a little?

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Yeah.

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So so what’s driving a lot of the demand for us is that this push for miniaturization. I mean, it’s true in VR, but it’s also true in lots of other industries as well, you know, medical device and and other things. And the trends that have happened over the last five to 10 years on a couple of fronts are driving that miniaturization. And but then there’s also constraints. What’s holding it back? Processing power at the site, the size of a chip, continues to get smaller, follows Moore’s Law, the size of sensors.

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Or Lenz’s continue to get smaller and smaller so that a lot of ways the miniaturization of the chips in the miniaturization of the lenses or sensors is accelerating quickly. But one of the constraints to being able to really put that into production applications is the ability to create all the infrastructure around those active components. OK, so what am I talking? I’m talking about chip packaging. Yeah, I’m talking about lens holders. I’m talking about waveguide components. So all these things that aren’t the chips or the or the lenses, the active components, but all the stuff around them.

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And that’s where we do really well, because these parts often either plastic or metal, but they’re typically need to be very high precision. Right. And small. And one of the sort of realities of manufacturing is that if you’re making a very small, complex, highly precise plastic part, that’s today, that’s pretty expensive to do. The molding cost to do that is in some cases, an order of magnitude more expensive than it is to make a larger, simple plastic part the size of your coffee cup.

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And so given the fact that the the manufacturing costs and the complexity of making those very precise small parts is high, that makes it a great opportunity to consider 3D printing as an alternative.

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Right. I mean, obviously, things need to be small, but they mean they’re small. They need to be structurally sound enough to do what they’re supposed to do. It just reminds me of of nanotechnology in a way. It’s just kind of reaching the reaching the the physical limitations of small structures. I mean, I guess we’re we’re reaching into the future here. But I mean, that’s that’s kind of where you guys are going. I mean, you’re going very have you’re talking pixel quality in small sizes with material.

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I mean, you can only just get smaller eventually, right? Yeah. Yeah.

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And I think there’s I mean, there are technologies that are so so we we feel our sweet spot and where there’s a really big opportunity is in that I’m going to call the micro level. I’m not going to use the nano level. You know, these are parts that are small, but you can see them there in your hand. Yeah. And they’re going to be assembled and used in some functional device. There are certainly nanotechnology is out there doing very, very small parts that maybe you can’t even see without a microscope microscope.

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The challenge with using those technologies is if you wanted to make a part like some of the parts that you’ve seen on our website that are small, but there’s still something that you can see the most nanotechnologies would take a very long time to make that might take days to make that. And so what we’re trying to do is, is is balance the ability to do this high precision, but also with some reasonable throughput, because customers, you know, they they don’t they maybe some of these markets are not yet at sort of iPhone volume scale like in AVR.

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But but there are some some of these manufacturers want to make hundreds of thousands. Right. And when you’re in the tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands, that starts to get into the range of being feasible economically, of doing 3D printing versus molding.

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Right. I can see that. I have to say, if anybody’s listening to me, you really got to check out the website, because it is I mean, the parts are so small and so, like, solid looking as well. I mean, sometimes you see things that are small and they’re kind of kind of flaky looking. You know, you can’t you can’t quite like but your stuff is like super crisp and super solid looking. So, I mean, that’s it’s it’s pretty amazing just to watch, just like there’s a video on there as well where they just kind of go over.

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So there’s like a bowl full of little small parts.

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It’s it’s amazing, John. I would say if people want to reach out to you guys and check out your stuff, where do they go? Yeah.

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So just what the website is the best place to start. So it’s www.BMF3d.com

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OK, and yeah. And so the way most people get engaged with us is they, they reach out to us. And one of the one of the great ways to, to, to understand if this technology can fit with what you’re doing is to engage with us and send us one of your files and we’ll make one for you. We’ll send it back to you.

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And nine times out of ten when we send it back that the prospect says, oh, this is pretty interesting. This is better than I’ve been able to do before. It starts the conversation.

OK, quick question before we go here, what’s the smallest, weirdest thing you’ve printed?

Smallest weird kind of thing.

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Yeah, there’s a lot of weird small stuff going on. I mean, some of the really impactful stuff. We’re doing a lot of work with immunization technologies now. Right. Micro needles, because I think the world is now discovering that immunizing everybody in the world quickly is not easy to do. Right. So and this is a I mean, this is certainly a it’s not a brand new idea. It’s been in the works for a couple of years.

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But now I think the events of the last year sort of prompted everybody to hurry up. So we’re doing a bunch of work and Micron Technology. There’s a lot of drug discovery and drug delivery technologies where we’re actually talking about know you’ve heard about seeing these things in movies or of robots basically crawling around in your body, whether they’re diagnostic or whether they’re actually delivering some remedy or solution. Those things need to be really small. And so there’s a whole bunch of companies out there doing development for I’m going to call them bio robots.

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So a bunch of things on that front.

Wow, that’s super exciting stuff, I’m really looking forward to seeing where that goes. John, it was really great talking to you. Really interesting. I learned a whole lot and I’m sure there’s like nothing but blue sky for you guys in this in this industry, because there’s there’s so much need for this type of product and downsizing, obviously. So once again, this was John Kohala. And if you want to learn more about BMF, go to www.BMF3Dcom

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That’s right.

OK. All right. Well, thanks, John, for being on the show. OK, Thanks.

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Sean Earley is the podcast host and Executive Editor of AR/VR Magazine, Modern Musician Magazine & co-founder of RobotSpaceship Podcast Network. He is the Director of New Biz Development, PR and Publishing at KEMWEB, a musician, producer & consultant. He loves guitars, VR and coffee.