Jun 11, 2018 | By Thomas

Swiss nanotechnology company Cytosurge has announced a design upgrade to its FluidFM μ3Dprinter, a standalone system for printing pure metal objects at the micrometer scale. The system has received a major design upgrade and has been further improved with a new and unique function: Printing on existing structures with pinpoint (micrometer) accuracy. The extended functionality could revolutionize micromanufacturing by combining additive manufacturing with traditional microfabrication methods.

The pioneering FluidFM technology was developed by Cytosurge, a spinoff of ETH Zurich. The FluidFM technology 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. Working at room temperature, the printer is able to produce high-quality metal object structures ranging from 1 μm3 to 1'000'000 µm3. Many designs can be printed by the system, including overhanging structures with 90-degree angles without support structures or post-processing steps.

Cytosurge has extended exisiting functionality by integrated two high-resolution cameras with the FluidFM μ3Dprinter. These cameras enable automated loading of the FluidFM iontip print ends, printer setup, calibration and computer-assisted alignment to print on existing structures as well as the visualization of the finished structures.

The bottom view camera is mainly used for internal system processes, like controlling the automated gripping of the FluidFM iontip print ends. The top view camera is tasked with imaging the object or surface to print on. With the high-resolution live video, the exact position of the object or surface to be printed on can be manually chosen and set as starting point for the printing process. This procedure allows the user to 3D print metallic objects on micro-electromechanical-systems (MEMS) including integrated circuit boards.

Cytosurge was the winner of the Best Development in 3D Printing Award 2017 for the FluidFM 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 FluidFM technology to creating structures from alloys and polymers.

The 3D printer 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.



Posted in 3D Printer



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