Nov 22, 2017 | By Benedict

Germany’s Nanoscribe, a company specializing in nano-, micro-, and meso-scale 3D printing, has combined its Photonic Professional GT, the “world’s highest-resolution 3D printer” for fabricating tiny plastic components, with conventional serial production technologies.

This year’s formnext 3D printing conference might have introduced a raft of large-scale 3D printing systems, but one of the most exciting new offerings at the Frankfurt-based event was focused decidedly on the other end of the size spectrum.

We wrote about Nanoscribe’s impressive Photonic Professional GT printer a few months ago, but the German company—initially a spin-off of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology—has now paired its microscopic additive powers with serial production technologies.

It’s managed this impressive feat by using its 3D printing technology to create polymer masters for micro-tooling. In other words, instead of 3D printing multiple quantities of tiny parts, it’s 3D printing tiny plastic molds which can then be used to make multiple duplicates in a much shorter timeframe than would be possible using only 3D printing.

By employing standard techniques like injection molding or hot embossing, Nanoscribe has been able to make large quantities of parts using 3D printed molds, which can themselves be designed and printed in the normal way: by putting together a CAD model and sending it to the 3D printer.

It sounds like a breakthrough for nano-, micro-, and meso-scale 3D printing, and it surely is: these 3D printed polymer masters can be used for the serial manufacturing of micro-optical elements like microlenses, prisms or retroreflectors, all of which can be made with a high level of precision.

Such 3D printed micro-optics used as masters can have vertical slopes, sharp edges, asymmetric geometries, and arrays of different elements, and can then be used in a range of fields, from medical engineering to the production of consumer electronics.

By spluttering the 3D printed polymer master with a thin metal layer, the masters—of whatever kind—can even be molded into nickel shims via an electroforming process, allowing users to carry out different kinds of series production that can’t be served by plastic molds.

These replica molds can then be integrated into the process chain of injection molding procedures, enabling further series production.

But it’s not just micro-optics that can be 3D printed and duplicated using Nanoscribe’s new production approach. Scaling things up a tiny bit, the additive system can also be used to produce micro-parts with dimensions up to the millimeter range.

These might include miniaturized gears, clamps, screws, or spirals—parts that can benefit manufacturers involved in the watch and microelectromechanical industry, speeding up their production processes by quickly 3D printing a design and then using the molding process to duplicate it.

Nanoscribe’s Photonic Professional GT, the machine behind all this clever production innovation, uses a process of two-photon polymerization (2PP) process to fabricate objects. The process involves directing a laser beam onto a photosensitive material in order to cure it.

This process repeats layer by layer, enabling the creation of tiny 3D polymer structures and allowing users to achieve submicron features sizes of as little as 200 nanometers—the highest precision available within the range of a few millimeters.

The company also produces a range of negative-tone photoresists—targeting different quality criteria such as resolution, surface smoothness, or throughput—designed for use with the Photonic Professional GT, while other UV-sensitive materials, including binding/repelling, hydrophobic, and hydrophilic polymers, as well as hydrogels, can also be 3D printed using Nanoscribe tech.

Nanoscribe describes its 3D printing technology as being suited for applications that require a finer resolution than stereolithography can offer, with the technology even able to print directly onto a broad range of different substrate types, including glass and silicon chips.

Nanoscribe will celebrate its 10th birthday in December 2017.

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Technology

 

 

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