Albuquerque-based Optomec focuses on additive manufacturing for production with its two patented 3D printing technologies: Aerosol Jet, used to 3D print electronics, and LENS, for high-value metal 3D printing. The busy company has been developing and providing resources on its technologies, as well as growing in size — now with more than 100 employees — and investment, with more than $40 million put into new technologies over the last decade. Optomec has just announced its newest system, the Aerosol Jet HD, the dispense industry’s first 20-micron resolution machine for high density electronics packaging.
While Aerosol Jet technology has been capable of micron-scale innovation for some years, this new system offers an advancement in precision and scalable production solutions that Mike O’Reilly, Director, Aerosol Jet Product Management, told me is intended to “fill in the gaps” in existing production line offerings, as the company continues to work with both “bleeding-edge customers and high-volume users” and is working to “develop additive manufacturing technologies from the lab into the fab.” Speaking last week to O’Reilly ahead of the announcement, made at this week’s IPC/APEX, I had the opportunity to dive into the technology behind the newest offering in Aero Jet.
O’Reilly, who has been with Optomec for nearly a dozen of its 21 years of operation, noted that over the last decade-plus, “We’ve had a lot of developments, a lot of small steps. This is a big step for us, entering the mainstream production market. Those pushing next-generation additive manufacturing will be those adopting this first, and big companies have big needs. A lot of customers come through our labs testing our machines’ capabilities, and I can’t think of one who hasn’t left our lab excited about bringing the tech into their facilities.”
This big step is designed to bring Aerosol Jet technology, which saw its first commercial installations in 2004, come to full-scale production operations. While many installations for Aerosol Jet remain geared toward lab and R&D applications, the new Aerosol Jet HD system reflects a “dynamic change we’ve seen over the last two or three years,” O’Reilly explained.
“Our products have matured, and we have more access to more material sets. Large commercial customers were running into challenges for high-volume advanced manufacturing,” he said. “This is a good inflection point where the market was in search of new solutions.”
That inflection point represents a major opportunity for a solutions provider — and Optomec is ready to seize that opportunity.
“I don’t feel shy about saying that our technology is going to be production-worthy in this platform,” O’Reilly told me with confidence.
The technology underlying that confidence represents what he named as the fourth iteration of Optomec’s high-volume platform to hit the market, ready to fit inside standard manufacturing line operations for use in mainstream electronics production. The Aerosol Jet HD is actually a configurable series of in-line digital dispense systems, offering a variety of options to suit a customer’s exact needs in digital dispensing. The HD System works with electronics materials, depositing down to a 20 micron feature size but also capable of larger feature production, from hundreds of microns to millimeters, and can print wide-area confromal coatings in thicknesses from 100 nanometers to tens of microns.