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IndustryArena Forum > GENERAL MANUFACTURING PROCESSES > MANUFACTURING PROCESSES > Process for making very small mm scale metal parts and applications to target
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  1. #1
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    Process for making very small mm scale metal parts and applications to target

    Hi Everyone, I’ve been working on a process for making very small metal parts using electro forming and photo-lithography.


    Basically it’s very similar to this process developed by a company called Microfabrica. It’s repeating: patterning (photolithography), electroplating/forming, levelling.


    You can see the Microfabrica process here:


    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NipRlELMYcM


    Happy to talk more about my process/variation, nothing about it is particularly original/special except that precision is really hard… but I more wanted to get everyones thoughts on applications.


    The material will likely need to be pure metals like copper, nickel etc. There are some fairly strong electroformed metals but you won’t be able to pick your favourite stainless steel or aluminium alloy. I could also make parts out of precious metals etc.


    My (fairly basic) idea at this point is to start a fabrication service for parts that are too small+complex for conventional CNC milling. I’m not sure if this would be more for prototyping more like the 3D printing services out there or for volume production. I also thought selling the machine but having sold physical / consumer products in the past I don’t want to go there again.


    It seems like there is a market for both prototyping as well as production parts but the development will vary a fair bit so I’m trying to figure out which one to focus on, and how to justify it.


    The first question I have is what would be a sweet spot in terms of part size to aim (overall part size) as well as feature size/resolution. I know resolution might be a bit of a strange term for CNC guys//gals? So maybe surface roughness would be better though it really depends on the geometry I guess. I used to have a lathe/mill so I know a bit about machining etc. Straight edges will be smooth but curves will suffer from pixelation. On both straight edges and curves pixel size will determine tolerance. Smaller than say 30-50 micron feature size gets challenging but down to micron level feature size is posible with a lot more work. Does anyone have any thoughts on what part / feature size I should be aiming for?


    A second question is what markets or even products would you target with this? One company that focuses on small parts seems to be Swissomation (https://www.swissomation.com/milling-turning/). They seem to advertise “micro machining down to 0.004” but looks like a lot of the parts they make are larger than this. It’s interesting that at these small parts most parts seem to be turned or at least turned and milled with the “Swiss type mill/lathing centre” This makes me think I should focus on more traditional milled parts as that is a lot more challenging than turned ones at these scales. I’m a bit worried it would be difficult to get business for volume parts though because it’s so different from the kinds of parts people use. There are staring to be companies focusing on small plastic parts but I don’t see anything that will make metal parts easier in the short/medium terms so that gives me home.


    I have a few basic ideas for areas to focus on like:


    -Watchmaking
    -Medical (sounds like a lot of paperwork)
    -Defence (Also a lot of paperwork and I’d prefer the process not to hurt people)
    -Micro-injection moulding moulds


    So I guess what I’m trying to figure out or at least get some input on is: is this actually a useful thing to work on, and would people buy small parts. If so what size would they need to be to be competitive. If you have a specific need let me know as it will be very encouraging!!!


    I thought I’d leave cost out of it as it as it's a whole other discussion (though one i'm happy to have (: Where there is no alternative I guess I could charge more (this is what Microfabrica Is doing) but I don’t think I can compete on resolution, or at least not yet. I think I can get the cost down in volume and for prototyping it might not matter if it’s a bit expensive.


    Thanks for taking the time to read and would really appreciate hearing everyones thoughts.


    Regards,


    John.

  2. #2
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    Re: Process for making very small mm scale metal parts and applications to target

    It sounds like Microfabrica has a patent on this process. If you violate it by setting up the same thing in competition with them, don't expect them to let it slide.
    Andrew Werby
    Website

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    Re: Process for making very small mm scale metal parts and applications to target

    Quote Originally Posted by awerby View Post
    It sounds like Microfabrica has a patent on this process. If you violate it by setting up the same thing in competition with them, don't expect them to let it slide.

    Hey Andrew,

    Thanks for the advice. I've had a good look through their patents. The most relevant ones are concepts around using these "conformal masks" to create small cavities in which you can selectivity plate. Kind of like a rubber stamp but plating in the relief areas. It's quite an interesting process really. They also have patents around some levelling and other processes. A lot of their patents are around use cases.

    I don't intend to use this same type of process but more just standard MEMS processes. Patents in the MEMS world are another issue but i'm intending on using some pretty basic technology so I think with some help at some stage I can probably steer clear of potential patent issues.

    Regards,

    John.

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