Horizon Microtechnologies specializes in template-based 3D microfabrication — a post-printing process that allows new areas of the industry to benefit from the power, flexibility, agility, and design freedom of micro-AM.
In recent years, micro-AM technologies have developed into cost-effective, relatively quick, and highly precise production technologies that can build to micron-level tolerances repeatedly. However, the materials that today’s micro-AM technologies can process are almost exclusively polymers. As such, manufacturers looking to embrace the power of micro-AM but requiring conductive or environmentally resistant micro parts have been left frustrated. Horizon Microtechnologies developed its template-based 3D microfabrication technology to bridge this gap.
“There is no doubt that AM and micro-AM have disrupted the ways in which various sectors produce end-use parts for an array of applications,” said Andreas Frölich, CEO at Horizon. “The dawn of ultra-precise micro-AM technologies recently opened up the advantages of AM for micro manufacturers, and by developing our microfabrication technology, we have extended the areas in which AM can have a positive influence. Using micro-AM can in many instances be cheaper and quicker than using conventional manufacturing processes, and stimulates design freedom and allows the production of parts and components with geometric complexity hitherto impossible.”
Horizon’s technology is a suite of processes that add material and functionality to a microstructure (the template). They work with a range of template materials and are nearly independent of the template’s shape. Hence, they are especially suited as a post-printing treatment for micro-AM-derived templates.
“You can add conductivity and environmental resistance to micro AM produced parts, and as such open the power of micro AM to manufacturers of electrodes and electrical connectors, 3D microfluidic devices, and MEMs and optics packaging,” said Frölich. “It is also possible to use the conductivity to eliminate the risk of static discharge. This is important in, for example, the automated assembly of optoelectronic components, such as bare laser diodes, where it is necessary to handle components which are small, mechanically delicate, static-discharge sensitive and which have several ‘no-touch’ areas. This calls for a component-specific gripper (end-effector) which combines several challenging features — tight mechanical tolerances and freely placeable internal channels for vacuum on one hand and sufficient conductivity to prevent any build-up of static electricity on the other hand. This is precisely what Horizon can offer via its template-based 3D microfabrication technology. Polymer micro-AM delivers tight mechanical tolerances and freely placeable internal channels, and Horizon’s proprietary post-printing process introduces the necessary conductivity.”
Horizon works with its customers as a product development partner. Considerations such as form, function, and material are all considered in consultation with the customer. The 3D microfabricated template determines the (almost) net shape of the final part, whereas post-processing steps achieve the final functionality.
The company’s post-processing technology can wholly or selectively coat micro-AM parts with a conductive layer. It can also homogeneously coat difficult areas, such as long narrow channels and undercuts. Microfabricated 3D templates can also be coated with metal oxides to make parts compatible with aggressive chemical environments and, in some cases, notably increase the resistance to high temperatures and mechanical stresses.
“Effectively, what we do at Horizon is open up the resolution, tolerances, and other attractive features of polymer micro-AM for applications where it is otherwise not appropriate due to the polymer’s material properties,” said Frölich. “Combining the unique geometries that micro-AM can produce, the tight tolerances that the process can attain, and the weight-saving possibilities that exist through its use with our proprietary post-build processes results in part functionality which polymer alone cannot achieve.”