Exaddon and Axon’ Cable – Redefining Microconnectors

Changing Lives with µAM

Note: This post was originally submitted to, & published on, the CMM Magazine website.

3D printed microscale metal plug, produced by Exaddon in collaboration for Axon' Cable

Using our unique µAM print technology, Exaddon was able to produce microplugs for AXON'​ CABLE just 400 µm in height, enabling Axon' to manufacture medical interconnects which will help transform patients' lives.

As an innovative company in the microscale 3D printing of metals, Exaddon was contacted for a new ambitious project by Axon’ Cable, a worldwide leader in specialist cabling and interconnect solutions for high tech applications. 

Axon’ Cable’s desire was to create micro plugs for extremely small connector wires designed to meet the requirements of challenging applications including medical, aeronautics, and space.

The initial need for the industrial spring contact solution – the tiniest currently known - was for a medical application; specifically, for patients who have lost use of their legs, and require a reliable artificial replacement for damaged nerve fibers. Accordingly, Axon’ had to be very mindful of biocompatibility concerns, particularly in terms of materials choice, test design, and connector design. Considering the sensitive application, the connection had to be 100% reliable and easy to use.

3D printed microscale metal plugs, produced by Exaddon in collaboration for Axon' Cable
Exaddon was able to produce plugs far smaller than any other technology could realize.

A real challenge for two experts in their field

Axon’ Cable required plugs to be much smaller than conventional manufacturing methods can usually implement. Prior to this collaboration, the smallest available plugs were 1.8 mm high. However, Axon’ Cable needed plugs measuring just 400 µm in height, and with a feature size far smaller – an impossible task with conventional metal AM techniques like powder bed fusion or binder jetting. 

Exaddon’s unique micro additive manufacturing technology provided the answer. Exaddon’s CERES print system electrochemically deposits pure metal via a hollow AFM cantilever, allowing the printing of complex metal structures at micrometer sizes. CERES prints with nanometer precision, at room temperature, and prints objects which do not require post-processing – making it the only system capable of realizing this project. 

Microscale connector plugs for medical devices, produced by Exaddon in collaboration for Axon' Cable
A 100:1 scale model of the plugs.

A New Manufacturing Challenge

The tiny dimensions required by Axon’ Cable posed little problem for Exaddon, who have printed replicas of Michelangelo’s David which are just 100 µm tall. Following 3D CAD rendering of the desired connectors, 3D printed versions in pure copper were made with the CERES system. In fact, Exaddon were able to produce plugs 5x smaller than Axon’ Cable needed - just 80 µm high. 

Considering the capabilities of the CERES system, the challenge was not so much producing the plugs themselves, but rather how to produce the plastic part which protects it, as well as the whole assembly made with the different components.  

Whilst designing an extremely miniature connection has been challenging for both Axon’ Cable and Exaddon, this is a real breakthrough in harnessing innovative technologies to help those who have lost the use of their legs. 

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