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JUL/AUG 2013  

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News/Features: Fab Update

MICA Freeform is a microscale fabrication process that bridges the gap between traditional micromachining processes, such as microEDM and laser machining, and newer methods, like LIGA—a process developed in Germany that combines lithography, electroplating and molding.

Many articles have been written about additive manufacturing, also known as 3-D printing. Most of these stories have discussed exciting possibilities for the technology, such as printing weapons, buildings and even human organs.

When the rapid-prototyping industry launched in 1987, stereolithography apparatuses (SLAes) were used to build physical parts from pools of laser-cured liquid resin. Since then, the technology has grown, changed and inspired a handful of fundamentally different additive-manufacturing (AM) processes that also create parts by binding successive layers of various raw materials into CAD-designated shapes.

When Martha Symko-Davies, solar business manager for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., was searching for companies worthy of U.S. Department of Energy investment a couple of years ago, she was not looking for a research project.

The manufacture of microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) has rapidly moved from “a little lonely device,” the accelerometer used in air bags, to a multitude of devices. Applications for MEMS range from Wii games and night-vision cameras to microfluidic cell therapies for various diseases.

Rapid prototyping offers other benefits than just a quick turnaround time.

For example, RP—defined as the ability to make 3-D objects from computer-aided designs without tooling—facilitates modifying or customizing earlier-generation prototypes.

Recent movement in the medical, aerospace and consumer-products industries toward smaller parts that incorporate microscale features and exacting tolerances would seem to eliminate stereolithography (SL) as a prototyping option for development engineers. Not so!

In a new twist, researchers have developed a method to produce 3-D microgeometries in a free-form fashion using controlled extrusion. The process could be used to create complex components for micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS), such as gears and springs. It could also create flexible electrical connections, freestanding electromagnetic shielding meshes and inductance components in organic micro-electronics. Potential biomedical applications include microprosthetic devices and tissue-engineering scaffolds.

Ruth Carranza is a filmmaker who has found her niche—specifically, her micro niche. Her most recent project, “MEMS: Making Micro Machines,” premiered July 15 at SEMICON West, the annual microelectronic semiconductor trade show held in San Francisco.

Silicon Run crewmembers work on a film (left to right): Ruth Carranza, Andy Olson, lighting technician, and Wah Ho Chan, cinematographer. All photos courtesy Silicon Run Productions.

For the Araldite Digitalis development team at Huntsman Advanced Materials, Basel, Switzerland, winning the EuroMold 2008 Gold Award in December for its polymeric additive fabrication system was a welcome milestone in what has been described as nothing short of an adventure.

“It has been a challenging adventure,” observed Philippe Michaud, global technology director for Huntsman, “and it is not finished.”