Aug 8, 2016 | By Tess

Nanoscale 3D printing has been developed and worked on by a number of research organizations with companies like Nanoscribe GmbH having even dedicated their R&D entirely to small-scale 3D printing technologies. Of course, with every new technology there is room for growth and improvement. This time, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, also known as ORNL, has devised a process for combining both simulation and experiment to make nanoscale 3D printing more precise and controllable than ever.

Working with FEBID, or Focused Electron Beam Induced Deposition technology, ORNL in collaboration with the University of Tennessee and the Graz University of Technology in Austria,  have developed a powerful simulation-guided drafting process that helps users to control, monitor, and ultimately improve the accuracy of FEBID nanoscale prints.

On its own, FEBID additive manufacturing technology works by using an electron beam from a scanning electron microscope to transform gaseous precursor molecules into a microscopic solid deposit on a surface until a nanoscale structure is formed. According to ORNL, this 3D printing method has up until now proven to be a gruelling one, and has often resulted in imperfect structures and printing errors. On top of that, the FEBID method had also presented a number of difficulties for the printing of complex structures larger than a few nanometers. The new simulation and experiment system seeks to improve these inconsistencies and even open the doors for new possibilities in nanomanufacturing.

Led by Jason Fowlkes, a research staff member at ORNL’s Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences, the research team has successfully been able to integrate design and construction into a single process for the creation of precise three dimensional nanostructures. Essentially, the new process introduces a 3D simulation which guides the electron beam for the making of complex lattices and meshes between 10 nanometers and 1 micron in size. In addition to guiding the electron beam, the simulation model tracks electron scattering paths as well as the release of secondary electrons to both predict and visualize what the final experimental nanoscale 3D printed structure will be.

In other words, “designs are fed into the simulation and drafting program, and any inconsistencies between the two caused by secondary electron activity can be caught before the experiment.” In this way, the simulation process can also be continually improved, as the 3D printed structures can also be compared to the simulated version to test the accuracy of the simulation in the first place. “In its simplest form, once we know the emission profile of those secondary electrons we don’t want, we can design around them,” Fowlkes added.

Of course, other faster processes exist for nanofabrication, though according to the researchers, none is as precise as the new FEBID method. This is because, for other methods researchers would have to use trial and error processes, which consist of printing the nanostructures, inspecting them, and then manually adjusting settings and parameters before printing it again. The recently developed ORNL system, for its part, effectively lets the researchers see the printing of nanostructure as its happening, which allows them to understand and take into account where the inconsistencies are coming from and how to fix them.

Harald Plank, who co-wrote the study from the Graz University of Technology, explained that the new technology could “open up a host of novel applications in 3D plasmonics, free-standing nano-sensors and nano-mechanical elements on the lower nanoscale which are almost impossible to fabricate by other techniques.”

The research team, which published a study about its project in the journal ACS Nano under the title “Simulation-guided 3-D nanomanufacturing via focused electron beam induces deposition”, is currently working on the next phase of their project: the purification of nanostructures of carbon contamination. This is being through “in situ purification” a process in which water or oxygen are used in combination with a laser to “liberate residual carbon from the precursor” to effectively remove it from the structure. According to the researchers, their simulation-experiment process can take into account the carbon removal process and accurately predict how the purification process will effect or transform the final 3D printed structure.

Fowlkes explains further saying, “We can design structures in a way where the actual writing pattern might look distorted, but that’s taking into account the fact that it’s going to retract and contract during purification and then it will look like the proper structure.”

According to a press release about the new technology, the research project was partially funded by the Center for Nanophase Material Sciences, a Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science User Facility.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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