Dec 18, 2015 | By Benedict

Researchers at MIT’s Microsystems Technologies Laboratories have developed a method for producing high quality microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) using a 3D printed desktop device. These MEMS can be produced at one-hundredth the cost of a market alternative with no loss of quality.

Microelectromechanical systems, commonly known as MEMS, is the technology of very small devices, one step up from nanoelectromechanical systems, or NEMS. MEMS, whose components typically range from 1 to 100 micrometers in size, were a $12 billion business in 2014, but there are significant obstacles involved in their production. To produce MEMS, sophisticated semiconductor fabrication facilities are required, which cost tens of millions of dollars to build. Because of this hindrance, the MEMS product market is dominated by a few specific devices, such as accelerometers used to orient smartphone screens. The significant investment required to produce MEMS therefore hinders the development of potentially useful devices.

Researchers at the Microsystems Technologies Laboratories at MIT have published two papers which suggest that these financial obstacles could soon be removed. In one, it is demonstrated that a MEMS-based gas sensor made with a desktop device is able to perform at least as well as alternatives built at expensive production facilities, whilst the other demonstrates that the central component of this desktop fabrication device can be built with a 3D printer.

The researchers were able to produce the gas sensor components at a fraction of their usual cost by eliminating the most expensive elements of production, namely high temperatures and vacuums. “The additive manufacturing we’re doing is based on low temperature and no vacuum,” says Luis Fernando Velásquez-García, a principal research scientist in MIT’s Microsystems Technology Laboratories and senior author on both papers. “The highest temperature we’ve used is probably 60 degrees Celsius. In a chip, you probably need to grow oxide, which grows at around 1,000 degrees Celsius. And in many cases the reactors require these high vacuums to prevent contamination. We also make the devices very quickly. The devices we reported are made in a matter of hours from beginning to end.”

The affordable gas sensor uses tiny flakes of graphene oxide, an atom-thick form of carbon with unusual electrical properties. The thinness of the graphene flakes means that interaction with gas molecules changes their resistance, making them extremely useful for sensing. “We ran the gas sensors head to head with a commercial product that cost hundreds of dollars,” Velásquez-García says. “What we showed is that they are as precise, and they are faster. We make at a very low cost—probably cents—something that works as well as or better than the commercial counterparts.”

Although the researchers initially used more expensive electrospray emitters, built with conventional techniques, they later found that a 3D printer could be used to produce emitters whose size and performance equalled the consumer alternatives. 3D printing also enabled the researchers to customize each component for particular purposes, which made the whole process much more constructive. “When we started designing them, we didn’t know anything,” Velásquez-García explained. “But at the end of the week, we had maybe 15 generations of devices, where each design worked better than the previous versions.”

Although the research appears to show nothing but good news for 3D printing and MEMS production, academics have preached caution. “For sure, the paper opens new technical paths to making gas microsensors,” says Jan Dziuban, head of the Division of Microengineering at Wroclaw University of Technology in Poland. “From a technical point of view, the process may be easily adapted to mass fabrication. But promising results must be proved statistically. Personal experience tells me that plenty of very promising materials for new sensors, utilizing nanostructured materials, which have been published in high-level scientific papers, haven't resulted in reliable products.”

The full findings of the first study can be found in “Electrospray-printed nanostructured graphene oxide gas sensors.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



Maybe you also like:


Leave a comment:

Your Name:


Subscribe us to Feeds twitter facebook   

About provides the latest news about 3D printing technology and 3D printers. We are now seven years old and have around 1.5 million unique visitors per month.

News Archive