April 10, 2013

Researchers at Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) have developed tiny chiplets that are smaller than a grain of sand. The new technology, referred to as Xerographic microassembly, breaks silicon wafers into tens of thousands of chiplets, bottles them as "ink" and then "prints" them - pretty much like how Xerox laser printing works.

An enlarged view of small slivers of silicon. | credit: Amy Sullivan/PARC

The company demonstrated this new technology to New York Times. According to the Times,

The PARC researchers have a very different model in mind. With financing from the National Science Foundation and from Darpa, the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, they have designed a laser-printer-like machine that will precisely place tens or even hundreds of thousands of chiplets, each no larger than a grain of sand, on a surface in exactly the right location and in the right orientation.

 

The chiplets can be both microprocessors and computer memory as well as the other circuits needed to create complete computers. They can also be analog devices known as microelectromechanical systems, or MEMS, that perform tasks like sensing heat, pressure or motion.

What will these chiplets be used for? In the future they can be used to build custom computers one at a time, or as part of a 3D printing system that prints smart objects with tiny chips embedded. The possibilities are extremely wide, "It's a crazy new revolutionary tool," said Dr. Eugene Chow, an electrical engineer who leads the PARC team. When this technology hits the mainstream, it could mean the emergence of a new digital era in manufacturing.

While there has already been an explosion in 3D printing of solid and mechanical objects both for prototyping and increasingly for small production runs, PARC's scientists believe that there will also ultimately be an ensemble of manufacturing technologies that seamlessly blend microelectronics with mechanical components.

 

"You can print mechanical objects, but a lot of things in the world today are more than mechanical," said Stephen Hoover, PARC's chief executive. "A lot of the opportunities we're going to find in the 'Internet of things' are going to be about how to embed intelligence at very low cost in a distributed way into the world."

But the PARC researchers also admitted that the technology is still in its stages that they can't achieve the transistor density with millions or billions of transistors now available through conventional chip manufacturing. So fabricating smart 3D printed objects is not yet possible, but it is nice to know what we can achieve in future that computers could be individually shaped for each system or just be part of 3D printers.

Thanks to Jim for the tip.

 

Posted in 3D Technology

 

 

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