There are countless applications for optical components and systems in the sub-millimetre range in medical technology, metrology, the semiconductor industry and research institutions, the founding team believes. Start-up company Printoptix, a spin-off of the University of Stuttgart (Germany), has the expertise to not only design and optimise such systems, but also to manufacture them – all via 3D printing.
Additive manufacturing offers completely new design and application possibilities in many areas. Scientists of the HYAZINTH research project have developed a special 3D process with which complex micro-optics including apertures or other components can be printed in one step.
This 3D microfabrication can be used, for example, to produce micro-endoscopes. These miniaturised optics with a diameter of only 125 micrometres enable, for example, endoscopic examinations of deposits in coronary vessels or in the carotid artery. The endoscopes produced in this way have a better resolution and a larger opening angle than alternatively manufactured endoscopes.
The scientists at the University of Stuttgart have been researching and developing the flexible production of complex, miniaturised imaging systems using 3D multiphoton lithography for several years. Only in summer 2016, another project funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research was launched at the University of Stuttgart: In collaboration with the company Nanoscribe, scientists from the 4th Institute of Physics and the Institute of Technical Optics at the University of Stuttgart developed the production of micro-optics both in 2.5D and complex 3D composite structures as well as hybrid optics.
The inventors now want to use their knowledge to set up a company. “Printoptics” is a start-up project and the researchers are able to manufacture components on a scale of 10 µm to 2 mm and on a variety of substrates, such as optical fibre tips, image sensors or LEDs. The team ledcomcomcom by Dr Simon Thiele and Nils Fahrbach can not only design and optimise optical components and systems in the submillimetre range, but also manufacture them. These new optics are already being used in numerous industries such as medical technology, metrology and the semiconductor industry, but also in research facilities and institutes.
One advantage is that by manufacturing in 3D printing, the costs for the individual optical components do not scale directly with the complexity of the design, the researchers point out. In addition, completely new types of optics can be developed for special requirements that were previously disproportionately expensive or even impossible to manufacture.
With their know-how and funds from the EXIST funding programme of the German Federal Ministry of Economics, Printopix GmbH i.G. has taken the first steps to prove itself on the market. The team plans to start business next year.