Micro Additive Manufacturing – Disrupting the production of precision plastic parts

Nanofabrica’s Tera 250 technology lifts the lid for designers and manufacturers in their quest to embrace the inherent advantage of AM, and enables them to exploit the ability that exists through 3D printing to build complex parts in small, medium, and high volumes in a timely and cost-effective fashion. We caught up with Avi Cohen, Global EVP Sales at Nanofabrica about the disruptive nature of the company’s micro AM technology, and how it has navigated issues related to the global COVID pandemic.

3D Printing Industry: How have things been at Nanofabrica during the COVID pandemic?

Avi Cohen: COVID mostly distorted our ability to properly engage with our customers and potential customers. As the lockdowns contingent on the pandemic begin to ease, we are today emerging by taking a prominent position at various leading trade shows and events, and also taking part in on-line and face-to-face activities that allow us to engage more readily with our potential customer base. We have not let the grass grow, however, and we have augmented our user base over the last 18 months, with more and more companies seeing the commercial advantages of using a micro AM solution for precise plastic part production.

3D Printing Industry: Can you briefly explain how the Tera 250 works?

Avi Cohen: The Tera 250 is based around a Digital Light Processor (DLP) engine, but to achieve repeatable micron levels of resolution combines DLP with the use of adaptive optics. This tool in conjunction with an array of sensors, allows for a closed feedback loop, the reason that Nanofabrica’s Tera 250 can achieve very high accuracy while remaining cost-effective as a manufacturing solution. In addition, through rigorous R&D, Nanofabrica has managed to develop its own proprietary materials (based on the most commonly used industry polymers) which enable ultra-high resolution in parts built.

3D Printing Industry: What do your customers typically use the Tera 250 for?

Avi Cohen: Our customers typically use our technology for in-house production of precise plastic parts for prototyping or full production runs, or they use them to service the demand for such parts through a contract manufacturing service.

Aran uses the Tera 250 to make innovative parts impossible using traditional manufacturing technologies. Photo via Nanofabrica.
Aran uses the Tera 250 to make innovative parts impossible using traditional manufacturing technologies. Photo via Nanofabrica.

One key customer is Aran Research and Development in Caesarea in Israel, which sees the use of the Tera 250 to push product innovation as most important. AM allows the manufacture of parts with geometric complexity impossible using traditional manufacturing processes, and the Tera 250 therefore places Aran R&D in a unique position to cater for the demand from across industry for extremely accurate and innovative micro-parts.

Moving forward, 3D printing / AM will continue to be used as a replacement for traditional manufacturing technologies, and this will continue to be focussed on applications where the use of the technology reduces the time and cost of manufacturing as is the case with Aran. As a general rule of thumb, for 3D printing to be used as a rapid manufacturing technology for any given application it will have to have demonstrate at a minimum a 10-fold improvement in cost and/or time savings to offset the cost and risk associated with changing over from a traditional manufacturing technology. For Aran, this is absolutely the case, and proves that for them, 3D printing is a clear and efficient alternative to traditional manufacturing processes today.

We have also just placed a machine at leading micro injection molding company Accumold in Ankeny, Ohio, USA. Using Nanofabrica’s technology, manufacturers can benefit from the inherent advantages that AM offers: part complexity with no increase in cost, eliminating expensive tooling, reducing part counts and the need for assembly, reduction of time-to-market, easy revision of part design, providing opportunities for mass customization, as well as reducing waste and energy costs.

These benefits led to Accumold to invest in the Tera 250, an indication that AM and traditional technologies can reside side by side and be complementary to each other. This is perhaps how AM in general can work in real-time production scenarios.

The Tera 250 micro AM system empowers Accumold with new service capabilities, most notably in low and medium volume production runs where the cost of traditional tooling would render projects non-viable.

A main area of interest is the production of direct rapid soft tooling (DRST) with the Tera 250, which facilitates prototyping and low volume production without the lead times and costs associated with traditionally fabricated tooling. Prior to the launch of the Tera 250, DRST had been regarded as sub-optimal when viewed through the prism of surface finish, precision, accuracy, and repeatability, while the number of materials that could be processed has also been a limiting factor. The Tera 250 system addresses these challenges to reach micron-level resolution, produce high surface finish, and reduce the time-consuming and costly need to cut steel.

Nanofabrica has made huge strides in the manufacture of DRST. Photo via Nanofabrica.
Nanofabrica has made huge strides in the manufacture of DRST. Photo via Nanofabrica.

Nanofabrica has achieved ground-breaking successes fabricating high numbers of parts of a single DRST made using the Tera 250 technology. The Tera 250 has succeeded in injecting standard thermoplastic materials such as PP, PE and ABS into a 3D-printed mould that was manufactured with a new proprietary material the company developed. 

3D Printing Industry: What’s next as we embark on the second half of 2021?

Avi Cohen: Well we look forward with some optimism, and hope that the move out of COVID restrictions continues. Moving forward, the key is to build on the momentum of the last 18 months, and Nanofabrica will be exhibiting at the upcoming Rapid 2021 and Formnext events. At Rapid 2021 13-15 September in Chicago, IL, USA Nanofabrica will be showcasing the parts that can be produced on the Tera 250 machine on booth E8540. At Formnext 16-19 November, Frankfurt, Germany, the Tera 250 machine will for the first time be accessible to a wide potential customer base, and attendees at both events are invited to engage with the Nanofabrica team to discuss specific applications and their appropriateness to micro AM.

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