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Mi­cro­fab­ri­ca­tion re­searchers An­drea Buben­dor­fer and An­drew Best have coin­vented a new way of fab­ri­cat­ing very small things with Lam­i­nated Resin Print­ing (LRP), and re­cently launched the patent pend­ing tech­nol­ogy in the US as part of Cal­laghan In­no­va­tion’s Mi­croMak­er3D team.

The team is one of ten se­lected world­wide for IDTechEx’s Santa Clara Launch­pad, an ini­tia­tive show­cas­ing new dis­rup­tive and state- of-the art tech­nolo­gies. The new type of 3D Print­ing tech­nol­ogy en­abling rapid pro­to­typ­ing of high- res­o­lu­tion mi­croscale struc­tures was achieved af­ter a kick- start from Ki­wiNet to com­mer­cialise the tech­nol­ogy.

Buben­dor­fer, who leads the mi­cro­fab­ri­ca­tion team at Cal­laghan In­no­va­tion that has cre­ated the tech­nol­ogy, said the team was very ex­cited about the po­ten­tial for this tech­nol­ogy to be a game changer in a range of in­dus­tries from medicine to wear­able tech­nol­ogy to aero­space. “It will cre­ate the first op­por­tu­nity to rapidly pro­to­type a huge range of minia­turised struc­tures from op­ti­cal slits to minia­turised mi­crow­ell plates, mi­cro­moulds and more,” she said.

“Cus­tom sen­sors are a great ex­am­ple of a niche area we’re keen to ex­plore. 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. There are end­less pos­si­bil­i­ties to what we can print – and what is most ex­cit­ing, though, will be when peo­ple start to print things we didn’t even know ex­isted,” says An­drea.

The Mi­croMak­er3D project was kick­started when Buben­dor­fer re­ceived Ki­wiNet Emerg­ing In­no­va­tor Pro­gramme fund­ing, com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion sup­port and ad­vice to ex­plore ways to make mi­cro­fab­ri­ca­tion more ac­ces­si­ble.

“We ended up cre­at­ing a new 3D print­ing tech­nol­ogy that can build up tiny struc­tures us­ing spe­cially en­gi­neered Lam­i­nated Resin Print­ing (LRP) ma­te­ri­als. We can print struc­tures with fea­tures as small as five mi­crons. To put this in con­text, a hu­man hair is around 100 mi­crons, so we could print things smaller than we can see.”

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

“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. We’re very pleased to have sup­ported An­drea and the team on their com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion jour­ney to date and are ex­cited to see them build a base of in­dus­try de­vel­op­ment part­ners.”

Over the last two years since the project started, Buben­dor­fer and Best have also been sup­ported with en­gi­neer­ing ex­per­tise pro­vided by the Mecha­tron­ics En­gi­neers at the Massey Uni­ver­sity Cen­tre for Ad­di­tive Man­u­fac­tur­ing and the Cal­laghan In­no­va­tion Ad­vanced En­gi­neer­ing team. Ad­vice and en­cour­age­ment have also come from Jo­han Pot­gi­eter (Pro­fes­sor of Ro­bot­ics at Massey Uni­ver­sity and ex­pert in ad­di­tive man­u­fac­tur­ing) and Olaf Diegel (Pro­fes­sor of Prod­uct De­vel­op­ment and world-renowned 3D print­ing ex­pert).

The project has at­tracted a fur­ther NZD684,000 of fund­ing from Ki­wiNet (PreSeed fund­ing) and has had strong Cal­laghan In­no­va­tion sup­port, as well as other in­vest­ment in­ter­est.

3D print­ing ex­pert Pro­fes­sor Olaf Diegel, a pro­fes­sor of prod­uct de­vel­op­ment, in the de­part­ment of de­sign sciences of the fac­ulty of en­gi­neer­ing at Lund Uni­ver­sity, said there is a huge need for a 3D print­ing tech­nol­ogy that al­lows [us] to make pro­duc­tion qual­ity small parts for ap­pli­ca­tions such as mi­croflu­idics, mi­cro-elec­trome­chan­i­cal de­vices, and pre­ci­sion en­gi­neer­ing ap­pli­ca­tions such as mi­cro gears and mi­cro ac­tu­a­tors and sen­sors.”

Best, a Mi­cro­fab­ri­ca­tion Man­ager at Cal­laghan In­no­va­tion, said Mi­croMak­er3D al­lows com­pa­nies to get com­pact high-tech prod­ucts to mar­ket with­out the nor­mally high man­u­fac­tur­ing costs that can be­come a bar­rier to in­no­va­tion. “Mi­cro­fab­ri­ca­tion rep­re­sents a great in­dus­try op­por­tu­nity for New Zealand and ex­porters around the world, as the value of goods is ex­tremely high, in a tiny form fac­tor, Ex­port­ing is no real bar­rier com­pared to most prod­ucts,” he said.

The Ki­wiNet Emerg­ing In­no­va­tor Pro­gramme is open to early ca­reer re­searchers based at uni­ver­si­ties and Crown Re­search In­sti­tutes across New Zealand. Pro­gramme re­cip­i­ents re­ceive ex­pert le­gal ad­vice from Ki­wiNet cor­po­rate part­ner M in­ter Ellison Rudd Watts an dIP ad­vice from Bald­wins. The Nor­man Barry Foun­da­tion, which owns the Qual­ity Ho­tel Par­nell Lim­ited, pro­vided fund­ing to sup­port Buben­dor­fer’s work.

AN­DREA BUBEN­DOR­FER AN­DREW BEST

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