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The BMF microArch S240 for Micro Part Manufacturing

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BMF’s Next Stepping Stone in IPFL’s Fleet of 3D Printing Services

IPFL’s latest acquisition from Boston Micro Fabrication (BMF) has already begun to lay the groundwork for a next generation service in micro 3D printing. But what makes this venture so important for plastics manufacturing?

Rise of Additive Manufacturing and Micro 3D Printing

Additive plastics manufacturing has been around for a long time. After 3D printing gained traction in the 1990s, the technology has since taken the world by storm. Today, commercially affordable printers are enabling the everyday consumer to 3D print at home. And for plastics manufacturers, the machines are getting all the more powerful.

For an in depth look into micro 3D printing, check out our blog: What is Micro 3D Printing?

The rapid increase of digitisation has played an important role in the rise of micro 3D printing and additive manufacturing. As technology advances, more processes require intricate components that can perform impossible tasks for longer lengths of time.

The electronics industry has boomed in the last 30 years, with a soaring demand for intricate mechanisms and circuit boards. These boards are getting smaller, and so require new micro components made with special dielectric or conductive material. Advancements in medical practices now require new instruments to be smaller and more durable for health checks and treatments. Microfluidics is one such practice used in medicinal and pharmaceutical tools to enhance fluid control at a microscopic level. 3D printed components are enabling channels small enough to restrict a grain of sand.

In 2021, additive manufacturing grossed $10.6 billion in global revenue, and is expected to grow as an industry to over $50 billion by 2030. These examples demonstrate how 3D printing is becoming one of the key factors in this industry’s value and evolution.

The BMF microArch S240 for Micro Part Manufacturing

IPFL’s latest micro 3D printing machine is the fifth system developed by BMF for short-run production. BMF was established in 2016 as a global manufacturer of 3D printing systems. The company has continued to develop and enhance its machines’ capabilities in printing smaller plastic components at a faster rate and lower cost. IPFL procured the S240 for its unprecedented ability to produce microscopic components far smaller than alternative 3D printing processes. Commonly, micro additive manufacturing is situated in making components with feature sizes between 100 – 50 microns (μm), the minimum amount visible to the naked eye.

Micro Arch

IPFL now has the ability to produce outstanding levels of accuracy in layer height as well as X & Y. The microArch S240 can produce components to an accuracy of 10μm, making the BMF addition an ideal machine for producing microfluidics and miniaturisation in electronics manufacture.

On average, when using traditional methods, components of such a small scale can take 5-10 weeks to be finished and received by a customer. This is often due to lengthier processes involving machining and injection moulding. With the microArch S240, IPFL now creates plastic parts:

  • Quicker
  • Smaller
  • More accurately

The BMF machine has become the flagship technology for producing highly accurate features on very small parts.

But it’s not the only technology in IPFL’s arsenal.

Types of Additive Manufacturing by IPFL

Batch Production Multi Jet Fusion

Batch production is made simple at IPFL with the help of HP’s multi-jet-fusion (MJF) 4200 large-capacity printer. The investment has allowed the company to print components with layers as small as 80μm in larger batches, thanks to its fast setup, no tooling, and build area of 380 x 284.5 x 380 mm.

MJF technology is relatively new, being introduced by HP in 2016 off the back of inkjet printing and material science investments. MJF works by fusing together fine powder-based material using a thermal print head. This is repeated on a layer-by-layer basis until a part is formed.

HP MJF (multi Jet Fusion) 3D Printers

Usually applied in conjunction with nylon material (PA12), which is high in tensile strength and wear resistance, MJF produces consistent surface finishes that are water-tight and showcase excellent mechanical properties. All this culminates in products aimed towards functional prototyping, end-use, and low-volume production. But it’s not just the quality that IPFL demonstrates with MJF:

  • Faster build & cooldown times
  • Higher precision parts
  • Cheaper (no expensive tooling)

Specialised FDM

Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) is arguably the most recognisable form of 3D printing. Thermoplastic is extruded from a nozzle onto a plate, which then follows a layer-by-layer pattern. What makes IPFL’s FDM service special comes from its available material. From non-flammable and elastic materials to carbon fibre and chemical resistant materials, FDM is utilised for any manner of application.

With additive manufacturing, FDM components remain:

  • Strong and durable in high performance
  • Dimensionally stable
  • Unique with a variety of materials

FDM 3D Printing of Thermoplastic Products & Parts - 3D Printing Services

Multi Material Polyjet

In a similar fashion to FDM, Polyjet 3D printing is a versatile technology that has been used in the industry for over two decades. Since its utilisation by IPFL in 2003, Polyjet has become the go-to solution for highly accurate, high-resolution components that display a smooth surface at just 16μm thick for each print layer.

The process is similar to that of plastic extrusion, though with noticeable differences to FDM. Polyjet houses photopolymer resin that is heated to the correct viscosity before jetting. The resin is then distributed onto a plate in droplets. Ultraviolet light hardens the resin as it builds the pattern layer-by-layer. The accuracy of the droplets, as well as the fast-curing time, creates a solid, smooth surface from a procedure that, from other processes, often leaves visible ridges requiring further post-processing.

Polyjet 3D Printers Essex & UK

Polyjet stands as one of the most accurate additive manufacturing technologies. It is able to combine multiple materials into a single 3D printed component thanks to the machine’s multiple print heads. This technique is exclusive to Polyjet, and allows for components with varying areas of stiffness, flexibility, and transparency.

Key Polyjet benefits:

  • Multi-material 3D printing
  • Smooth surface finish
  • High accuracy and intricate detail

After recently acquiring the latest Stratasys J850 printer, IPFL is expanding its influence into the medical device sector.

High Resolution SLA

SLA printing is one of the oldest forms of 3D printing alongside FDM, being created by Japanese researcher Hideo Kodama in the 1980s. The technology utilises UV light to cure photosensitive polymer in even layers to build the part.

From its early conception, SLA technology has continued to develop into a revolutionary 3D printing service that can produce extraordinary accuracy and detail for various sized components. IPFL comes equipped with the latest in SLA printing. The British manufactured Stratasys Neo450s is the first of its kind in the UK, and the first to be put into service to create the next generation of SLA precision quality parts. With this high resolution technology, parts can be produced in record time and precision. This allows for quicker product development, prototyping, rapid tooling, and master patterns.

SLA Microfluidic 3D Printing

Along with competitive surface quality, IPFL’s high resolution SLA offers:

  • Precision and accuracy throughout production process
  • Complex geometries with excellent detail
  • Fast production times
  • Ability to produce larger parts

Why is the BMF S240 Addition so Significant?

What makes the microArch S240 by BMF so important. To quote Bill Bloomfield, Operations Director at IPFL; “Our customers were asking us to make things quicker, smaller, more accurately, and BMF fitted that perfectly.”

IPFL’s projection micro stereolithography (PµSL) accelerates prototype and production processes, with a technology suite that offers clean and ready to use components in hours. With an array of 3D printing materials to choose from, the latest addition from BMF has established its place at the core of IPFL’s plastic printing services. The acquisition has further answered the growing call for micro additive manufactured parts for industrial production. S240 can print industrial grade composite materials as well as ceramic, serving an area of the market that has previously gone unheard.

With the latest range of 3D printing technology, no part is too small or complex to print at IPFL.


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