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Template-based 3D Micro-Fabrication System Debuts

The system, developed by Horizon Microtechnologies, enables the addition of material and functionality to the micro structure, typically through a coating process, for novel applications.

December 8, 2022

3 Min Read
3D-printed microfluidics
Image courtesy Horizon Microtechnologies

Template-based 3D micro-fabrication technology enables the production of conductive miniature parts at micrometer-scale precision. Horizon Microtechnologies demonstrated the technology and announced its commercial launch at Formnext last month in Frankfurt, Germany.

Horizon CEO Andreas Frölich demoed the technology alongside Boston Micro Fabrication at the additive manufacturing event. Frölich notably showed attendees how the company’s post-build processes introduce the versatility of micro additive manufacturing (micro-AM) to applications such as electrodes and electrical contact pins, ESD-safe parts, 3D-printed microfluidics, micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS), and optics packaging for the first time.

"A game-changer for industry"

Template-based 3D micro-fabrication is described by Frölich as a mechanism to leverage 3D-printed polymer micro structures — i.e., the template — in unserved industrial applications by adding material and functionality to the microstructure, typically by means of a coating process. “This is a real game changer for industry,” said Frölich in a prepared statement. “The key enabling technology for our processes is micro-AM, and today a number of commercially viable polymer-based micro-AM platforms exist that can achieve exacting tolerances quickly, cost-effectively, and, above all, repeatably.” He noted, however, that these platforms are almost exclusively restricted to printing parts in resin or plastics. “Horizon Microtechnologies bridges the gap between micro-AM and parts with enhanced functionality through the use of proprietary post-build processes,” explained Frölich. “This means that companies requiring the flexibility, innovation, and agility that is driven by AM for parts with conductive, ceramic, heat-resistant, or other polymer-incompatible functionalities now have a commercially viable solution.”

Horizon specializes in the production of micro-scale conductive and environmentally resistant parts. To introduce conductivity, the printed part is entirely or selectively coated with a conductive layer. Horizon said in the press release that it can even homogeneously coat difficult areas, such as long, narrow channels and undercuts. Applications include electrodes, electrical sensor heads, and ESD-safe components.

Micro-fabricated 3D templates can also be coated with metal-oxides to make parts compatible with aggressive chemical environments. In some cases, resistance to high temperatures and mechanical stresses can be significantly improved. This enables the fabrication of nozzles and micro-fluidic products for aggressive solvents and certain acids while benefiting from the full design freedom of additive manufacturing. In some cases, it is also possible to make bulk ceramic or glass objects, said Horizon.

Arbitrary electrode geometries

For electrodes and electrical contact pins, Horizon’s in-house technology can be used to design almost arbitrary electrode geometries while maintaining manufacturability, said the company. This opens up broader options to meet such requirements as three-dimensional placement of the active electrode areas, greater (or lesser) electrode stiffness, and electrical properties through enhanced control of inductance and capacitance. “In addition, we can make electrodes with different conductive materials to achieve biocompatibility or bioinertness,” said Frölich. “The same benefits apply to the design and fabrication of electrical contact pins.”

In terms of ESD-safe parts, Horizon said it can make parts with a controllably conductive surface coating and can coat internal channels with multiple bends. Applications include compact, high-performance end-effectors for vacuum pick-and-place devices with sufficient conductivity to prevent ESD discharge.

Additive manufacturing also lends itself very well to prototyping and small batch production of complex, multi-level microfluidic chips. Surfaces in contact with the liquid can be coated to improve wetting behavior, control surface energy, and introduce electrical conductivity.

Broaching mass production

While AM is not typically considered a mass-production technology, added Frölich, “the reduction in the size of electronics and optics — and the accompanying shrinkage of packaging — has made it a viable production alternative for MEMS and optics housings for small to medium batch sizes. In addition to the precision offered by micro-AM, an intelligent use of Horizon’s post-processes can increase the functionality of the packaging by reducing stray light in the infrared, or by having integrated electrical conductors, for example.”

Years of R&D have now culminated in the commercial launch of Horizon’s 3D microfabrication system, said Frölich. “We work in a supplier-independent fashion with polymer micro-AM technology innovators and have developed in-house post-build technological solutions that are an integral and important addition to the AM process chain. We look forward to working with companies across numerous industry sectors that will benefit from our solutions.”

Interested? You can contact the company here.

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