Jun 29, 2017 | By David

A revolutionary new form of 3D printing will enable the production of complex structures on a scale that was previously too small to conceive of. The Fluid FM µ3Dprinter will allow users to accurately manufacture metal objects that measure mere micrometers across—smaller than the diameter of a human hair. This will be incredibly useful for experimental research in chemistry and biology, amongst other groundbreaking applications.

The pioneering Fluid FM technology was developed by Cytosurge, a Zurich-based company composed of a relatively small, passionate team of specialists from a number of different disciplines, united by their goal to advance the fields of nanotechnology, life sciences, and single-cell biology.

Fluid FM, the company's creation, relies on the precise crafting of microfluidic pipettes. These pipettes, with an aperture 500 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair, are capable of controlling liquid flow rates at the femtoliter scale. This patented microscopic fluid-dispensing system is ideal for microfluidics research and surface analysis of liquids, and can be custom-made according to a particular client’s specifications and research needs. It’s also the technology that forms the unique print heads for the Fluid FM µ3Dprinter.

The results of FluidFM technology are impressive. The 3D printer is capable of fabricating impossibly tiny structures by controlling the flow of a liquid which contains metal ions. As the ions leave the tip of the pipette, they rapidly form solid metal atoms in position, through an electrolytic process. The movement of the pipette is controlled according to a 3D computer design which enables the building of very elaborate and intricate objects, such as a tiny metal triple-helix.

The 3D printer can produce excellent results in a very short amount of time, which is ideal for experimental applications since it allows for multiple tests to be performed in order to find the optimal geometry and material properties for the 3D printed objects. Researchers using the Fluid FM µ3Dprinter will also benefit from high reproducibility, allowing for more reliable experimental results. 

Despite the apparent complexity of the procedure, intuitive operation software and partial automation mean that very little technical expertise is required to get to grips with Fluid FM. The entire system consists of the 3D printer, a separate controller, an ion control unit, and a microfluidics control and pump unit.

The build area of the 3D printer measures around 100 mm x 70 mm x 60 mm, allowing even large objects to be placed there to be printed upon. The maximum print volume of one filling is much smaller: 200 µm x 200 µm x 200 µm, and usually lasts for a few days of continuous printing. This excess build area allows users to insert existing objects into the chamber, which can then be printed upon or around. The chamber boasts a feedback system that allows the process to be controlled in an ongoing fashion, while the print head offers a repositing accuracy of 250 nm, which effectively enables users to place several objects into the print chamber at once to be printed upon (without starting a new print job each time).

Cytosurge was the winner of the Best Development in 3D Printing Award 2017 for the Fluid FM technology, and the company continues to work on perfecting the process and increasing the range of materials that are compatible with it. Thus far copper has been the main metal that has been used, but the printing of titanium, tin, and nickel is currently under investigation, as is the application of Fluid FM technology to creating structures from alloys and polymers.




Posted in 3D Printing Technology



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