Metal 3D Printing Gets Down to Nanoscale
Kyle Maxey posted on February 03, 2016 | | 8412 views

Nano-printing in metal. (Image courtesy of Alain Reiser.)

Nano-printing in metal. (Image courtesy of Alain Reiser.)

Cytosurge AG has announced that it has developed a new process for printing metal components on the nanoscale.

The technology driving this new 3D micromanufacturing process, FluidFM, has been around for a while, but, until now, it’s been used exclusively in the life sciences field.

First developed at ETH Zurich, the FluidFM process uses a micropipette mounted on a cantilever leaf spring to deposit discrete amounts of material in an ultraprecise manner.  

In Cytosurge’s latest iteration of the FluidFM process, the pipette has been manipulated to handle metals rather than biological materials. By using an electrode, Cytosurge’s researchers have been able to catalyze a chemical reaction that turns the machine’s copper sulfate material into solid copper. Researchers say the new manufacturing method can build components using a number of metals other than copper. However, those other materials haven’t been disclosed.

“The newly developed 3D printing method is suitable for applications in various markets,” said Pascal Behr, Cytosurge CEO. “Presently, we see potential applications in the watch and semiconductor industries as well as in [the] medical device sector.”

While Cytosurge’s commercialization team has imagined a few avenues for FluidFM’s new industrial applications, the company is willing to open up its 3D printing technology to research teams that might develop new applications for the process. In addition to its R&D approach, Cytosurge also has plans to develop an “independent product line for industrial applications.”

One of the biggest issues that plagues metal 3D printing has been the difficulty associated with maintaining material properties across the body of a print. Because the metals in most printing processes have to be fused into a solid from a powder, the metal’s properties may not be uniform across a print. Because of that potential variability, it’s been difficult to get 3D-printed metal parts certified for critical applications. However, the industry has shown signs of getting better at ensuring consistent material properties across a print.

But even in its current technological state, metal additive manufacturing could probably use the ideas being developed at Cytosurge to improve the quality of large metal prints. Sure, Cytosurge’s micromanufacturing process may never be ideal for large-scale prints, but its ability to create complex geometries on a nanoscale may lead to insights applicable to the larger world of 3D printing. But, back to the nanoscale. Wouldn’t Cytosurge be valuable for embedded electronics where precision is critical? Can you think of other applications? Put your suggestions in the comment section below.