Sep 18, 2014 | By Alec

As readers will have undoubtedly noticed, the market for 3D printing technology and 3D printed objects is steadily expanding. But there is one segment of this additive manufacturing industry that hasn't been able to live up to expectations and potential so far: the field of 'nanomanufacturing', and then specifically where electronics are concerned. This week, however, scientists from Northeastern University have revealed their NanoOPS printer, which could be a breakthrough.

The market is potentially enormous: demands for miniscule electronics for smartphones, tablets, cameras and so on is higher than ever. Prices in those markets continue to be high, however, as the tiny electronics are made in an expensive, silicon-based manufacturing process. Furthermore, the market's potential is never fully reached due to a reliance on inkjet technology, which is slow and limited to a microscale – rather than a nanoscale – resolution.

As a report from Northeastern University remarked, 'A fabrication facility costs billions and requires massive quantities of water and power. Moreover, few nanoscale devices manufactured today exploit the unique properties and behaviours of nanomaterials such as nanotubes, quantum dots, and nanoparticles. Printing offers a unique approach to fabricating devices and products that contain nanomaterials.'

The team from Northeastern University's Center for High-rate Nanomanufacturing (CHN) have been researching nano technology for some time in an attempt to realise its potential. And they have come up with the very impressive and almost room-filling Nanoscale Offset Printing System, or NanoOPS. This giant hexagonal machine is about seven feet across, with a robotic arm fixed in its center, which will transfer templates and products.

According to the team from the CHN at Northeastern, their fully-automated prototype system runs on their brand-new Nanoscale printing technology. 'The system can make products that fully take advantage of the superior properties of nanomaterials. In minutes, the system can print nanoscale structures and circuits (down to 25 nanometers) onto flexible or hard substrates up to eight inches across using conductive, semiconducting or insulating nanomaterials (organic and inorganic).'

This is how its printing system works. Unlike common extrusion printers that layer resin or plastic, the nano printer begins with a template of the product. This mold of a computer chip or another piece of electronics will be dunked into a solution of miniscule nanoparticles. These will form the buildings blocks of whatever product you are seeking to print. A surge of electricity will be applied to it, which will determine how many particles will be attracted to the product, effectively determining the shape of whatever is you want to create. Nanoparticles of copper can, this way, be pressed into smaller and more specific shapes than ever before.

This revolutionary NanoOPS sytem will also cost and operate at a fraction of common nanomanufacturing costs, making it an accessible technology for commercially sound business ventures and entrepreneurs.

The developers hope it will 'transform nanomanufacturing and nano-enabled technologies and will spur innovation by drastically overcoming the high cost entry barrier to the fabrication of nanoscale devices without endangering workers or harming the environment. NanoOPS can be used fabricate new and more affordable electronics, medicines; stronger, lighter and smart composite materials; or faster, cheaper energy harvesting and robust storage.'

This technology would therefore be extremely useful for a variety of industries. Electronics was already mentioned – Ahmed Busnaina, the center's director, told the Boston Globe that iPhones could theoretically be produced for as little as $10. However, the medical world could also greatly benefit. Drugs could, for instance, be transformed into miniature particles that can be absorbed through the skin rather than injected into the bloodstream.

Nanotechnology could really transform manufacturing. And this isn't even something of the far-flung future. While much must still be done before commercial nanomanufacturing printers can be sold, Busnaina can see nanoprinted consumerproducts appear in as little as 'one or two years.' While this doesn't yet mean iPhone prices will plummet, he does expect certain medical applications like cancer detection sensors are just around the corner. We can't wait for it to arrive.



Posted in 3D Printers

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EB wrote at 9/19/2014 7:17:06 PM:

It is a typo. #2 should read "Wafer Load Port"

TK wrote at 9/18/2014 11:42:57 PM:

What was the difference between picture of system #2 Template Load Port Module and #6 also named that...?

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