In the early days of computers and electronics, critical components including switches, electrical contacts, resistors, conductors, transistors and semiconductors could all be manufactured through more traditional processes. Today, we can now carry more raw processing and computational power in our smart phones than the entirety of NASA did during the advanced U.S. space program of the late 1960s.
These small, personal computers we carry almost everywhere are a result of incredible improvements that have come from placing smaller and more complex components onto an integrated circuit. This doubling of transistors on an integrated circuit, which occurs roughly every two years, is referred to as Moore's Law. Although it is not a law like the other laws of physics, the two year time frame has been proven to be fairly accurate throughout several decades since its first observation in mid-1960s.
Between 1970 and 2011, the gate length of the metal-oxide-semiconductor field-effect transistor, or MOSFET, went from about 10 micrometers, or microns, to 28 nanometers. Today, they're even smaller, with modern smart phones allowing for the development of processors with more than three billion transistors — and now engineers are finding that Moore's Law may become obsolete in the near future because of the way electrons behave when a transistor becomes smaller than seven nanometers.
To put the size of a single nanometer into perspective, a human hair is between 80,000 to 100,000 nanometers wide. That means a single transistor is even exponentially smaller than a single white-blood cell or microscopic bacterium. While computers and electronics are just one aspect of modern technological advancements, manufacturing has also had to adapt to keep pace with these ever expanding and evolving industry trends.
Other industries outside of computer electronics, like the aerospace industry and medical supply manufacturers, have also adopted the use of smaller and more precise components. As the demand for small or even microscopic components increases in a variety of industries, so too does the need for manufacturing that allows for extreme precision and close tolerances on a variety of complex geometries and parts. Traditional forging, machining, molding and casting may not be an option in cases where precious metals and other essential materials are being used. Although it is easy to take many of these microchips and invisible components for granted without much thought, as the years move forward, it is imperative for manufacturers to remain competitive in the development of ever shrinking components.
Below we will take a look at several different types of micro manufacturing processes including micro molding, micro machining, micro welding, cold forming and forging. All of these micro manufacturing methods are utilized when more traditional methods are not an option, or are too costly to use for the specific job. Micro manufacturing adds unique advantages for both complex components with intricate geometries and close tolerances, and it permits the use of certain types of materials and alloys that could not withstand the external stresses resulting from intense heat, traditional molding or regular machining.
What Is Micro Molding?
The molding process for plastic, glass, metal and other materials has long been a staple in manufacturing that can utilize a variety of different processes. One of the most well known is plastic injection molding which is used to create many of the petroleum-based products we find in our homes. However, when it comes to high precision, tight tolerances and complex, intricate geometries, micro molding might be the manufacturing solution you are looking for.
Micro molding doesn't just permit the creation of small, microscopic components. It also offers a level of quality essential for larger projects that have obstacles other molding methods can not break through. Molding something small isn't the only problem that needs to be solved when creating a component. Producing high-quality components in large quantities that maintain their standards and precision throughout the process is also vital. In some cases, billions of components might need to be created with no room for error.
Parts can also require features smaller than 0.1 millimeters or a wall thickness of less than 0.20 millimeters. Extreme precision like this can only be achieved through modern micro molding practices. In addition, these processes can also be streamlined for mass production, creating a highly efficient, reliable and precise manufacturing process.
Designers and engineers can take their plans right to the manufacturing process in a cost effective way as well by eliminating the need for more labor intensive molding practices. Through the use of equipment specifically designed for micro molding, skilled micro manufacturers can use high performance materials like thermoplastic resins to create nearly any engineered product you desire at such a small size. Micro molding is especially important to creating critical components and products for the medical industry including implantable medical supplies and even high-quality lenses for micro optics.
What Is Micro Welding?
Mold making is an expensive process that often requires the need for restoration, repair or resurfacing to reduce expenditures. To help alleviate the cost of having to create new parts or the manufacturing of new mold components, welding can be utilized. Micro welding processes have evolved from traditional gas tungsten arc welding, or GTAW welding. Formerly called TIG welding, the process involved applying an electric burst to the piece to create the needed heat at the point of an arc gap. This point creates a molten pool where the filler rod can then be introduced.
Micro welding uses a similar process, but the amperages used are often much lower, falling below 10 amps. By utilizing a high-powered microscope and maintaining finer control of the amperage range, micro welding technicians can achieve results that require much more precision. Micro welding, like other types of micro manufacturing processes requires unique demands not achievable by traditional methods.
Thin materials and tighter tolerances all require the specialized processes of micro welding. While it can often be referred to as precision welding, there can be a number of processes used to achieve results within the realm of the microscopic. Size can vary, but almost all micro welding is conducted for weld requirements below a single micron.
As with micro molding, medical implants can be manufactured with micro welding. Everything from television parts, appliances, aerospace components, wires, electronics and jewelry might benefit from the efficiency of the micro welding process.
In addition, the processes can be automated, which can create reliable, low cost manufacturing capabilities, reducing the need for skilled laborers. In addition to TIG welding, resistance, flash, arc, plasma and laser welding might also be used, depending on the application.
Laser micro welding is often automated in operations through the use of solid state laser sources and can be applied for internal welds without the need for pressure and a more precise energy focus. Certain types of metals and alloys are conducive to laser welding, while others may need a pretreatment so they do not absorb or reflect the energy of the laser.
In most cases where a weld under a micron is required, micro welding is likely the best option to save money and to manage the precise requirements of the job. With specialized equipment, micro welding offers unique advantages that could not be achieved with traditional welding procedures.
What Is Micro Machining?
CNC machining is essential to numerous industries dealing with the manufacturing of complex geometries and working with a range of different metals and precious alloys. As with micro molding and micro welding, micro machining offers its own advantages when it comes to size, the machining of complex geometries and working within close tolerances that more traditional methods can't provide.
Even though many of the same techniques remain, machining within the size of one micron or below is the main classification for micro machining. Micro machining is also conducted by using specialized CNC tools for manufacturers to overcome limitations. Micro machining can be used to manufacture components in plastics or metal, and it offers many of the same advantages of micro molding.
Miniature features or miniature parts that can be produced with high precision and efficiency is essential for creating life saving medical supplies or the complex components used in the aerospace industry. Like traditional machining, similar tools are used, but the proper equipment for working with such small components is required.
In addition, an in depth knowledge of the physical properties of metals and alloys used is needed for performance on such a small level of machining. For example, micro manufacturing can also benefit from cold forming and cold forging processes, which don't subject metals and alloys to the intense stresses of more traditional methods.
What Is Micro Cold Forming?
Because intense heat may impede tensile strength and the hardness of metal, traditional hot forging and hot forming techniques may not be an option when setting out to make a component from a specific alloy or metal. Forging metals at room temperature, or at temperatures around 70 degrees Fahrenheit, can be achieved by a process called cold forming. This is a method of forging that utilizes a metal blank, which can then be shaped into a useable form at close to room temperature. It is often a popular option for projects that require micro manufacturing.
By utilizing machines that operate at high speeds and high pressures, metal can be formed into components through the use of dies. As with micro molding, micro machining and micro welding, cold forming can be advantageous for the manufacture of components that require highly precise, complex features with tight tolerances.
The process begins with a metal blank that is formed through the machines that operate at high pressure and high speed. Vertical presses, either hydraulic or mechanical, are then used as dies punch the blank, or slug of a specified volume into the shaped component.
Working with materials that may only be microns thick will not allow for traditional hot forging methods, but the demand for these types of micro components are increasing every day. Because of size requirements for micro manufacturing, cold forming is often the only suitable option. As the latest computers and electronics shrink in size, the cold forming process becomes key to the assembly of each device.
STS Intelli has experience with the cold forming of precious metal alloys to take on any size of project. Thanks to our industry-best hydraulic press and mechanical press, it doesn’t matter if your company needs microchips assembled or micro rivets and sensors added to the motherboard. Cold forming is about to become the most important process of creating your next game-changing device.
The main advantages of cold forming come from the process itself. Cold forming results in improved hardness, durability and better fatigue performance. In addition, it allows difficult alloys and metals to be formed into complex geometries without problems that other forging methods create. With almost no scrap, the specified volume is all that is used in the process, resulting in much less waste and cost savings in the long term. In addition, the ability to produce multiple components quickly without the need for additional work or labor can also help save money and increase profitability.
How Can STS Intelli Help My Micro Manufacturing Business?
While we have taken a look at several different types of micro manufacturing, almost all processes benefit from the use of cold forming because it offers flexibility and precision not achievable through traditional hot forging methods. At STS Intelli, we specialize in cold forming for a range of industries including aerospace, medical, automotive, computers and electronics as well as the manufacturing of semiconductors. Whether you are seeking a small yield or need a consistent manufacturing on a much larger scale, STS Intelli can help you.
STS Intelli has more than 80 years of industry experience as a supplier of micro cold formed parts. We offer component manufacturing that is competitive and cost efficient with high performance precious metal alloys. For reliable solutions that offer both consistency and high-quality production, STS Intelli can help you achieve success with either small or large volume projects. Through micro cold forming processes, our cold forging hydraulic and mechanical presses provide high-precision dimensions essential to all micro manufacturing needs.
We are constantly trying to find ways to improve our forging processes while also protecting and preserving the environment. Cold forming is regarded as one of the eco-friendliest forging processes in operation today because it reduces waste and uses less energy than alternatives that use heat.
Similar to our traditional cold forming process, our micro cold forming process is less expensive than traditional forging with almost 100 percent material yield — there is almost no scrap leftover. When you are working with precious metal alloys, "no scrap" is essential to protecting your bottom line. You’ll spend less over time, while also keeping your carbon footprint down.
We offer first rate service as well as superior metal working and cold forming processes. Contact us today for a free quote for any project small or large.