Adding 3D printing to the factory toolkit

potomac photonicsThe media is filled with stories about 3D printing factories that are going to send traditional manufacturing plants the way of the dinosaur. How much of this is just media hype? Or soon, will 3D printing be making every product in the universe? The truth lies somewhere in the middle.

While it is true that 3D printing has unique capabilities, so does every other technology used in manufacturing. And so, 3D printing is a great technology for factories to add to the factory toolkit.

The best manufacturers and contract service providers choose the right tool for the job at hand. As Mike Adelstein, President of Potomac Photonics, Inc. in Lanham, MD puts it, “one tool does not fit all applications”. By incorporating 3D printing from 3D Systems printers with other technologies on the factory floor, companies like Potomac can have the best options available for meeting customer needs. Mr. Adelstein has found that, “by integrating multiple tools, we can then spend our time on the more challenging aspects of the job, rather than trying to get the wrong tool to work.”

An excellent example is a microfluidic device Potomac was asked to manufacture for a company in the health care industry. An innovative combination of laser micromachining and 3D printing yielded a product for the customer that didn’t just do the job, it did so cost-effectively.

3D printing was the clear technology choice for making the macro device – an approximately 2” x 2” clear acrylic part with features in the 100 – 200 micron range. Traditional manufacturing such as milling or CNC does not easily produce the detailed features required by the customer design. But 3D printing does.

In addition, 3D printing yields a clean finish, and there is no melting or HAZ (heat-affected-zone). And a big plus, is that 3D printing saved time. Multiple parts could be made in the 3D Systems Corp. high-resolution production 3D printer as a batch, rather than individually making each part with mechanical processing.

Potomac is a pioneer in the laser micromachining arena, having built some of the original laser workstations in the 1980’s. Using decades of expertise to add the channels required in the microfluidic device completed the product. As shown in the photo, the channels are 10 microns wide and 10 microns deep; the posts are 140 microns in diameter and 70 microns deep.

All in all this is a beautiful example of how the integration of 3D printing with laser micromachining created the perfect device for the customer in a cost-efficient manner. But only because Potomac chose the right tool for each manufacturing task.

Potomac Photonics has almost 3 decades of microfabrication experience in Digital Fabrication.  The company’s services include 3D printing, laser and CNC micromachining, micro-molding, marking, assembly and packaging.