Many additive manufacturing applications require metals for higher strength and hardness. The problem comes when parts are required to be ever smaller and more complex.
Manufacturers are chomping at the bit to find processes capable of making high-precision parts at the millimeter scale which feature tiny tolerances.
Now Microfabrica, a Van Nuys, Calif.-based advanced manufacturing firm, says they've developed a proprietary, micro-scale AM process, MICA Freeform, which can mass-produce millimeter-scale metal parts with micron-size features.
The process can combine different metals into a 'micro-composite' which, due to their alloy nature, outperform single metals. The technology can fabricate millions of parts, mostly aimed at the aerospace, medical device, and semiconductor industries, and it's capable of creating functional mechanical devices with multiple moving parts which require no additional assembly for use.
Microfabrica says MICA Freeform can achieve extreme precision by using engineering-grade metals like nickel-cobalt, palladium, rhodium and copper, and it can do it with features as small as 20 microns with tolerances of +/- 2 um.
The technology has the ability to fabricate holes – round holes, blind holes, and counterbores – as small as 40 microns in diameter.
"We've been surprised and impressed with the wide variety of complex devices and mechanisms that our customers have designed," says Richard Chen, vice president of design engineering for Microfabrica. "Some of the mechanisms have seven to nine moving parts that are fabricated at the same time."
Chen says one big difference between the MICA Freeform process and other technologies is that the parts it creates are dense and don't require any infiltration or additional finishing processes.
"For many high-tech industries, the drive to miniaturization is immutable. As conventional manufacturing methods fail to keep pace, additive manufacturing is evolving as the disruptive solution. We are uniquely positioned at the forefront of these converging trends to support customers in the medical device, semiconductor, and aerospace industries," Chen says.