Feb 25, 2016 | By Andre

When approached to write an article based around on USC’s research on the manufacture of 3D printing assisted nanoparticles, I figure it'd be best to do a little research on the subject.

What I found out was that they are microscopic particles with at least one dimension less than nm (or 100,000 times smaller than the width a human hair. I later learned that 1kg of particles of 1mm3 has the same surface area as 1mg of particles of 1 nm3; that they can seep through cell membranes without causing molecular damage, and also that they don't come cheap.

Traditionally created in labs with very limited production capacities, a gram of gold nanoparticles can run you $80,000 on the open market. For comparison’s sake, you can purchase a gram of pure, raw gold for a measly $50.

So why are nanoparticles so expensive? USC Professor Noah Malmstadt is the first to admit that “It’s not the gold that’s making it expensive. We can make them, but it’s not like we can cheaply make ta 50-gallon drum of them.” Thankfully, this team of scientists are doing their best to produce more nanoparticles at lower costs than ever before with the help of 3D printing technology.

Instead of manufacturing the particles using traditional test tubes, flasks and beakers, the team led by Malmstadt has shifted their focus by 3D printing really tiny 250 micrometer tubes in an attempt to construct and capture these nanoparticles at relatively breakneck speeds. “In order to go large scale, we have to go small.” Brutchey has said.

After using stereolithography 3D printing methods to produce an aligned network of these tiny 3D printed tubes, two non mixing fluids are pushed through them. Once the fluids escape on the other end of the 3D printed tubes, they smack against each other as tiny micro-scale droplets before transforming into nanoparticles in a very predictable manner.

Each one of these tubes can make maillions of copies of these tiny little droplets.

Renderings of 3D printed droplet generators and images of droplet formation process.

While similar tube based approaches have been developed in the past, these 3D printing assisted nanoparticle producing tubes have a different geometry that allows a more uniform distribution which in turn leads to fewer jams and a more balanced particle.

So why all the fuss for these nanoparticles at all? In a similar fashion to why 3D printing companies are trying to speed up the adoption of super material graphene, a speedier production of nanoparticles can lead to a great deal of breakthroughs. Their ability to climb through cell membranes without causing damage has great implications on regenerative cell research and as a delivery system for medicine.

Another quirk characteristic of nanoparticles is that sintering can take place at lower temperatures in less time than with larger particles. To my eager 3D print-centric brain I light up with excitement at the possibility of next-next generation SLS 3D printers that fill their build trays with incredibly fine, low-heat fusing, ultra fast laser sintering systems.

Even though, for now, 3D printing and nanoparticles are only working together from a production perspective, the projected market for this synthesized matter is in the range of $12 billion by 2020 (up from $3.4 billion today). So giving a shot at being the fastest out of the gate when it comes to producing this potentially disruptive 21st century particle appears to be a worthy undertaking.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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