Jan 15, 2018 | By Benedict

Physicists at Tomsk State University in Russia are developing a new method of ultrasonic 3D printing that levitates small particles in an acoustic field. The technology, which could be ready by 2020, will be used for hot or chemically aggressive solutions and substances.

Two years is a long time in 3D printing, so when a group of scientists promises to develop a new technology over the course of two years, it’s easy to wonder whether the promised goods will ever arrive, and if so, whether they will still be relevant. A new 3D printing technique proposed by scientists specializing in radio physics at Tomsk State University (TSU) in Russia may or may not be the future of additive manufacturing, but it sure sounds interesting—especially for those with an interest in volatile, dangerous materials.

The Russian physicists are developing a new kind of ultrasonic 3D printing that uses levitation to lift small particles of foam plastic. They say the technique could eventually be used to 3D print hot or chemically aggressive solutions and substances, precisely controlling and organizing the levitated particles to form 3D printed shapes, handling them safely in mid-air.

Although the technology is still in its very early stages, the system will purportedly use an anechoic chamber covered with wave absorbers and emitters. A stream of acoustic waves (40 kHz) will serve to suspend the foam plastic particles in mid-air, while power levels will be able to be adjusted to increase the “number and size” of the particles. Tailor-made software will be used to move the levitated particles from side to side.

“The first stage is a controlled levitation of particles,” explains Professor Dmitry Sukhanov, who has been tasked with overseeing the ambitious additive manufacturing project at TSU. “Based on this we will create a method of manipulating a group of particles to collect three-dimensional objects from them. Upon entering the sound field and during the precipitation, the particles of the powdery substance will be rearranged, fall along the required trajectories, and settle into a definite pattern. Layer after layer, particles will be deposited in any shape.”

It sounds radical, but it won’t be the first practical use of levitation for manufacturing purposes. Sukhanov says variations on this kind of technology already exist in several parts of the world, with the most advanced levitation research taking place in Japan and the UK. But the TSU researchers don’t just want to perfect the art of levitation. Rather, they have some particular 3D printing applications in mind for their new technology: the installation of components on printed circuit boards, the handling of dangerous chemical substances, and potentially other uses too.

“We will use our own lattices of ultrasonic radiators and develop a system for parallel control of emitters and software,” Sukhanov adds. “To achieve this goal, we need a combination of digital technologies for the transmission and processing of large amounts of data, technologies for synchronous generation and amplification of multiple signals, and solutions for acoustic and aerodynamic tasks.”

The physicists have already assembled a scale model of their levitational 3D printer, but there’s much more work to be done if the team is to meet its 2020 target. As part of the research, the physicists will need to call on the expertise of TSU chemists in order to select the optimal substances and temperature settings for fusing particles to a three-dimensional object. It’s a big task, but they will be helped along by a generous grant from the Russian Science Foundation—to the tune of 15 million rubles ($266,000).



Posted in 3D Printer



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