Industrial Grade DLP Chipsets: The Secret to Precision, Speed & Scale for Advanced Applications

An interview with Jeff Marsh, Texas Instrument's DLP Products Manager about the differences between industrial and consumer-Chipsets as well as future applications.

Photo: Jeff Marsh, DLP Products Manager. Credit: Texas Instruments
Photo: Jeff Marsh, DLP Products Manager. Credit: Texas Instruments

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Which DLP projector is the best-suited—and most economical—for your application?

It’s widely known that TI DLP® projection technology offers a number of advantages over conventional extrusion-based and SLA techniques for high-resolution, high-speed 3D printing, as well as enabling high-precision lithography and metrology. DLP technology is enabled by Digital Micromirror Device (DMD) chipsets, micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) containing millions of single-pixel micromirrors arranged in a matrix, which can be manipulated to generate images. But diving deeper into the details of DLP technologydetails reveals that not all DMD chipsets are created equally. With both display and industrial-grade chipsets on the market, it’s hard to know which DLP projector is the best-suited—and most economical—for your application.

To find out, we went straight to the source: Texas Instruments, the creator and sole producer of DLP chipsets for both display and industrial applications. Jeff Marsh is TI’s DLP Products Manager and a leading expert in DLP chipset design with more than 25 years of experience. Here, Jeff shares his perspective on what differentiates industrial-grade from display-grade, how to make the right choice and how advances in chipset technology are enabling an almost magical future.

DLP230 GP DMD pico

3D printing is really hot right now, particularly with the kind of UV DLP projector technology that In-Vision is making available.

Jeff Marsh, TI’s DLP Products Manager and a leading expert in DLP chipset design

In-Vision: Many users wonder if it’s worth it to invest in more expensive, higher-grade projection equipment that uses industrial chipsets, or if display-grade DMD might work just as well. How do industrial-grade chipsets differ from display/projection grade?

Jeff: The basic technology is very similar, but industrial-grade chipsets have some additional capabilities. First, we can optimize them to handle different wavelengths of light. For example, we can modify the system to accommodate UV or infrared, to minimize reflection loss and maximize output—such as applying a coating to allow optimal light in and out with as little loss as possible.

Second, we can add features to enable high-speed control of the pixels with hardware triggers. For example, you can signal the DMD to operate dynamically based on a closed feedback loop. That’s the case in machine vision, where you have a camera that’s looking at the part where the patterned light is projected, and the camera sends back signals to the system that trigger the DMD and tell it what to do. The ability to program these hardware triggers and high-speed digital patterns really set the industrial chips apart. In 3D printing and lithography, we’re very close to being able to adjust the parameters to account for any misalignment in real time, to sort of custom build on the fly.

In-Vision: What are the advantages to industrial-grade chips in 3D printing?

Jeff: Overall, industrial-grade chips offer a better combination of performance and ROI in high-precision or production-grade use. They offer longer life, higher reliability and support a wider range of wavelengths, unlike display, which only handles RGB wavelengths for visible light. They’re more robust and they last longer in industrial, high-volume applications. They might cost a bit more, but they also offer more capabilities and don’t need to be replaced as often, so they’re a better investment in terms of total cost of ownership for commercial and industrial-grade applications.

For 3D printing specifically, they offer high programmability, for when you want to trigger a dynamic function, and because they can handle a wider variety of wavelengths, you can print with a wider range of materials, like polymers, resins or powders. And again, they’re much more reliable. Some competing technologies can’t handle the flux density or power levels required for certain applications, so they need to be replaced frequently. LCD, for example, requires a frequent change out, so much so that they provide a backup panel with the system for redundancy, but we don’t want to go that route. Instead, we built a chipset that can last through the production lifecycle.

Industrial chipsets offer a higher degree of programmability. The ability to program hardware triggers and high-speed digital patterns set the industrial chips apart.

In-Vision: What about lithography?

Jeff: Again, it’s about speed/throughput and programmability. With the high demand for electronics today, printed circuit board manufacturers need to push through more data per unit time to produce more boards per hour. With industrial-grade DLP chipsets, they can get higher output with fewer tools and consumables, therefore driving higher revenue.

Industrial-grade chips also give PCB manufacturers more flexibility in bit depth and exposure options. With standard systems, they’d be limited to a certain spec. But they may need to print somewhere in between. With our industrial chips, they can use different bit depths to expose the media at the right level to print unique features—they don’t have to be square; they can be sloped or even 3D shaped.

In-Vision: What are some the most interesting applications for DLP technology right now?

3D printing is really hot right now, particularly with the kind of UV DLP projector technology that In-Vision is making available. The use of DLP technology in augmented reality glasses has the potential to be very impactful, too. Imagine walking down the street with information being displayed about the restaurant or store or even the people you’re walking by, like in the Terminator movie. Maybe we could stop looking at our phones all the time!

Automotive is also very exciting. With DLP projection, we could turn every window in your car into a heads-up display. And, then there’s warehouse automation. We’re looking at the ability to optimize shipping and logistics—things like aiding in order fulfillment and even packing pallets intelligently with maximum density.

In-Vision: Where do you see the industry headed?

Jeff: Of course, we’ll see many of these applications push forward in terms of higher resolution and throughput, and we’ll need to continue optimizing for higher power and temperature needs. I think soon we’ll see a demand for 3D printing with metals instead of just polymers and plastics. But in order to do that, we have to find ways to increase the flux density while keeping the DMD cool so that the mirror structures can withstand that kind of intensity, to ensure that our reliability, resolution and throughput all stay constant.

Drawing showing the tilting mechanism of the micromirrors in a DMD chipset.

In-Vision: What are you most excited about for DLP technology in the future?

You know, we’ve been involved with this industry for so long, it’s really exciting to see how fast it has evolved. The first DLP concepts were being explored as early as 1977, but it wasn’t until around 1996 that the first real production part emerged thanks to a breakthrough in the first bi-stable pixel that we pioneered here at Texas Instruments. Now, we have DLP technology being used in all sorts of imaging and projection applications from 3D printing and scanning to fast-growing adoption in heads-up displays, headlights and other automotive applications.

Honestly, after 25 years in this business, and working in pretty much every aspect of our DLP business, from process engineer on the factory floor to developing our automotive products to working with customers to learn about their needs, I’m most excited about the fact that there are just so many opportunities. It’s amazing to be in this situation with so much potential. I love the industrial path we’re on because it leads to a more diverse set of customers with greater longevity.

We want to thank Jeff for sharing his unique experience and perspective on DLP technology. To learn more about In-Vision’s industrial-grade DLP-based light engines for 3D printing, lithography and metrology, visit