Reseller News

Callaghan Innovation micro-fabrication unit unveils printing tech at tiny scale

Technology allows printing of sub-millimetre structures with complex geometries
Co-inventors Andrea Bubendorfer and Andrew Best at work

Co-inventors Andrea Bubendorfer and Andrew Best at work

Callaghan Innovation unveiled a new 3D printing technology that enables rapid prototyping of high-resolution micro-scale structures.

Laminated resin printing, or LRP, makes it fast, easy and affordable to create a wide range of printed structures for applications such as electronics, wearables, sensors and Internet of Things (IoT) devices, among other applications.

Callaghan's MicroMaker3D team is one of ten exhibitors selected for IDTechEx’s Santa Clara Launchpad,  showcasing new and disruptive technologies.

LRP allows developers to print sub-millimetre structures with complex geometries of up to 100 per cent density, in low-layer thicknesses and with imaging speeds as quick as one second a layer independent of complexity or density, Callaghan said.

“Microfabrication – the production of very small high-value devices – is an export industry for New Zealand. Until now, however, making these miniature structures has been slow and expensive,” co-inventor Andrea Bubendorfer said.

In contrast, 3D printing can’t operate on the small scale needed for microfabrication.

"We set out to develop ways to make microfabrication more accessible and are proud to have created a new technology that addresses the significant need for rapid prototyping on the micro-scale," Bubendorfer said.

By small, she is talking five microns, smaller than the human eye can see. A human hair is about 100 microns.

Co-inventors Bubendorfer and Andrew Best developed patent pending LRP to rapidly prototype miniaturised structures from optical slits to miniaturised micro-well plates, micro-moulds and more.

“Custom sensors are a great example of a niche area we’re keen to explore," said Bubendorfer. "One high value approach would be to use molecular sensing to functionalise microstructures, so we could rapid prototype devices for detecting insulin concentration, biomarkers, presence of toxic gases or pollutants."

The team received support from KiwiNet through funding, programmes, and advice; engineering expertise provided by the Mechatronics Engineers at the Massey University Centre for Additive Manufacturing and the Callaghan Innovation advanced engineering team.

Furthermore, the team also received "advice and encouragement' from Johan Potgieter, professor of robotics and expert in additive manufacturing at Massey University as well as Olaf Diegel, professor of product development and 3D printing expert at Lund University.

The project has attracted a further $684,000 of pre-seed funding from KiwiNet and has had strong Callaghan Innovation support, as well as other investment interest.

“There are strong drivers for miniaturisation as smaller devices use less resources, and less power, and are lighter and faster," said Dr James Hutchinson, CEO of KiwiNet.

"With the emerging Internet of Things, the ability to 3D print microstructures for tiny sensors will open up a huge new avenue of commercial possibilities.”

MicroMaker3D project co-leader and microfabrication manager at Callaghan Innovation Andrew Best said microfabrication represents a great opportunity for New Zealand and exporters worldwide because the value of the goods is extremely high, in a tiny form factor.