3D Microfabrication: Medical Applications

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What is microfabrication? Based on the latest definition, microfabrication is “a collection of technologies which are utilized in making microdevices.” As the name implies, 3D microfabrication is the manufacturing technique using layering of materials to produce a 3D structure at a typical scale of micrometer or even nanometer dimension. In other words, 3D printing at micro or nanometer scale. One commonly known 3D microfabrication or additive manufacturing microdevice process that can achieve this level of resolution includes 3D laser microfabrication such as laser direct-writing (LDW). Microfluidic devices are often produced using LDW. Microstereolithography, another common technique based on stereolithography principles fabricates 3D components by repeatedly layering photopolymerizable resin and curing under an ultraviolet laser. Finally, multiphoton lithography (e.g. two photopolymerizations) is another recognized 3D microfabrication process that can 3D printing sub-micrometer resolution). Over the past several years, there is an increasing interest in the space with a handful of new startups more visible in the spotlight in the 3D printing space. One of the driving forces is the enormous need to mass manufacture complex but small (if not smaller) medical devices. Examples include stents, microneedles, endoscopic components, and many others that are facing size challenges. Another driving force is the potential point of care of these devices meeting the design and manufacturing demand without facing external competition, trade secret loss, and supply chain crisis.


John Kawola

CEO of Boston Micro Fabrication

John is the CEO of Boston Micro Fabrication (BMF) an additive manufacturing technology company with a focus on high resolution, accuracy, and precision. From 2016 to 2019, John served as President-Americas for Ultimaker, the leading open-source desktop 3D printing company. From 2012 to 2016, John was the CEO of Harvest Automation. Harvest developed and deployed an autonomous mobile robotic platform that assists workers with difficult, repetitive material handling. John was VP of Sales and then CEO of Z Corporation from 1997 until 2012. Z Corporation led the way in introducing fast, easy to use and full-color 3D printing into a wide range of industries. John is also currently the Chairman of Labminds, a laboratory automation technology company, and a Board Director at Industrial ML, an industrial machine learning company. John received a BS in Mechanical Engineering from Cornell University, MS in Mechanical Engineering from Rensselaer, and an MBA from Union College.


Adam Steege

Adam Steege

After completing undergraduate work in Math, Physics, and Mechanical Engineering, Adam started his first company, Agile EndoSurgery. Agile developed novel articulated laparoscopic surgical devices, using a wide variety of fabrication techniques. Through this development process, as well as through his consulting work that resulted in the development of 3 other commercialized medical devices, Adam learned the potential and the shortcomings of 3d printing in medtech. With over 80 pending and issued patents, and 10 years of medical device development in addition to automation, robotics, and manufacturing expertise, Adam founded Trio Labs to solve the problems of precision and scalability in metal additive manufacturing.


Martin Hermatschweiler

Martin is CEO of Nanoscribe, the pioneer and market leader in high-precision additive manufacturing. Various, application-specific products underpin the expertise for specialized manufacturing scenarios such as prototyping, mastering, alignment with nanoprecision, and bioprinting. Nanoscribe is a spin-off of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) and belongs to the BICO Group since June 2021. With Nanoscribe, the BICO Group is the world’s first life science company with internal Two-Photon Polymerization (2PP) additive manufacturing capabilities. Martin is co-founder and managing partner of Nanoscribe, ever since the company was founded in 2007. The scientific expertise of the graduate physicist lies in laser patterning of polymers as well as in their casting into high refractive index optical materials. In 2015, he has been listed among the TOP 40 entrepreneurs within Germany younger than 40 years by the journal “Capital”, the so-called “young elite”.


Albert Folch

Albert Folch’s lab works at the interface between 3D-printing, microfluidics and cancer. He received both his BSc (1989) and PhD (1994) in Physics from the University of Barcelona (UB), Spain, in 1989. During his Ph.D. he was a visiting scientist from 1990–91 at the Lawrence Berkeley Lab working on AFM under Dr. Miquel Salmeron. From 1994–1996, he was a postdoc at MIT developing MEMS under Martin Schmidt (EECS) and Mark Wrighton (Chemistry). In 1997, he joined Mehmet Toner’s lab as a postdoc at Harvard-MGH to apply soft lithography to tissue engineering. He has been at Seattle’s UW BioE since June 2000, where he is now a full Professor, accumulating over 11,000 citations. In 20 years, he has supervised 18 postdocs (17% of whom have reached faculty rank), 12 Ph.D. students (25% faculty rank), 15 M.S. students, and >40 undergraduates. In 2001 he received an NSF Career Award, in 2006 a NASA Space Act Award, and in 2014 he was elected to the AIMBE College of Fellows (Class of 2015). He has served on the Advisory Board of Lab on a Chip between 2006-2017 and on the Editorial Board of Micromachines since 2019. He is the sole author of 5 books, including “Introduction to BioMEMS” (2012, Taylor&Francis), a textbook adopted by ~100 departments in 18 countries, and “Hidden in Plain Sight: The History, Science, and Engineering of Microfluidic Technology” (MIT Press, to appear in April 2022). Since 2007, the lab runs a celebrated outreach art program called BAIT (Bringing Art Into Technology), which has produced seven exhibits, a popular resource gallery of >2,000 free images related to microfluidics and microfabrication, and a YouTube channel that plays microfluidic videos with music which accumulates ~157,000 visits since 2009.


The miniaturization of biomedical assays is of paramount importance for expanding healthcare access, for reducing healthcare costs, and for expediting biological research. However, biologists and clinicians typically do not have access to microfluidic technology because they do not have the engineering expertise or equipment required to fabricate and/or operate microfluidic devices. Furthermore, the present commercialization path for microfluidic devices is usually restricted to high-volume applications in order to recover the large investment needed to develop the plastic molding processes. We are developing microfluidic devices through stereolithography, a high-resolution form of 3D printing, in order to make microfluidic technology readily available via the web to biomedical scientists. Most available SL resins do not have all the favorable physicochemical properties of the above-named plastics (e.g., biocompatibility, transparency, elasticity, and gas permeability), so the performance of SL-printed devices is still inferior to that of equivalent PDMS devices. Inspired by the success of hydrogel PEG-DA biocompatibility, we have developed microfluidic devices by SL in resins that share all the advantageous attributes of PDMS and thermoplastics so that we can 3D-print designs with comparable performance and biocompatibility to those that are presently molded.


Dr. Jenny Chen

jenny chen

Dr. Jenny Chen is trained as a neuroradiologist, founder/CEO of 3DHEALS. Her main interests include next generation education, 3D printing in the healthcare sector, automated biology, artificial intelligence. She is an angel investor who invests in Pitch3D companies.



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