Georgia Institute of Technology has done some truly bleeding-edge research in self-configuring robotics and robot swarms. It's also home to research projects in advanced additive manufacturing (AM), design, and materials. The latest one has received a grant from the Department of Energy to develop nanoscale AM with a variety of materials.
The technique uses focused electron beam induced deposition (FEBID) assisted by gas jets, which sends a highly focused beam of high-energy electrons and a jet of gases to a substrate material. The process creates tiny, nanoscale-layered structures, tens of nanometers to hundreds of nanometers wide, formed one atom at a time. The nanscale allow structures made of a wide variety of materials and materials combinations, and with very high purity.
A heated capillary micro-nozzle is installed on the deposition stage of a focused electron beam induced deposition (FEBID) system, along with the test chip used for electrical characterization of deposits for graphene interconnects. (Source: Rob Felt, Georgia Tech)
Some different types of electron-beam AM systems are used for doing metals AM, often for aerospace applications. Examples we've told you about include Arcam doing work for aircraft engine maker Pratt & Whitney, and Sciaky making jet wing components for Lockheed.
The research team is led by professor Andrei Fedorov of Georgia Tech's school of mechanical engineering, whose specialties include heat transfer, combustion, and energy systems. The team envisions using the technique to make nano-electromechanical sensors and actuators, high-performance interconnect interfaces for electronic devices based on graphene and carbon nanotubes, and to design optical and magnetic materials with new properties by changing the shape and composition of their nanostructures and combining materials. "By providing truly nanoscale control of geometries, [the technique] will impact a broad range of applications in nanoelectronics and biosensing," said Fedorov in a press release.
Fedorov and his team have already demonstrated the technology, and a proof of principle for the use of thermally energized gas jets in the FEBID process. The researchers have also used the process on a variety of substrate materials, including metals, plastics, dielectrics, and semiconductors, with about two dozen deposition materials. They will use the $660,000 grant, which lasts for three years, to increase control over the process and speed up the growth of materials, while still maintaining a high aspect ratio of deposited material in the nanostructures.
"Wherever electrons strike the surface, you can grow the deposit," said Fedorov. "That provides a tool for growing complex three-dimensional structures from a variety of materials with resolution at the tens of nanometers. Electron beam induced deposition is much like inkjet printing, except that it uses electrons and precursor molecules in a vacuum chamber." Scaling up the process, in terms of increasing production volumes, will also be possible by adding electron beams and precursor jets working in parallel.
Thanks for that comment, Jack B, I hadn't connected the two together. I bet the printer manufacturers haven't thought of that yet either. OTOH, we did an article on combining 3D printing with printed 3D electronics here http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1392&doc_id=265097
Incredible! The potential for medical benefits alone are astounding. Imagine being able to construct customized nano-bots that could repair certain tissue damage of internal organs. The possibilities are indeed endless.
Jack B, interesting that you mentioned the various scales of 3D printing methods, and enfolding things printed with one scale into things printed with another. We covered a related idea about printed 3D electronics enfolded within 3D printed objects, like electronics integrated into an airplane wing: http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1392&doc_id=265097
The possibilites are exciting. You have large scale 3D printing building interior structures that could not otherwise be made. Add to that the possibility of nanoscale 3D printing, and you begin to imagine the things printed into the housing of larger parts. Machines within machines if you would. Pretty cool stuff!
I agree with Greg. Nanotechnology more and more is becoming the foundation for a lot of innovation these days and to add the possibllity of 3D fabricating these materials leaves it open for even more potential. Good story, Ann.
Exciting new technology with wide open possibilities. In addition to nano sensing and nano electronics applications, this could also produce big advances in nano machinery fabrication. I am especially intrigued by the ability to use different materials with this process. It will be interesting to follow the commercialization of this technology.
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There’s a good chance that a few of the things mentioned here won't fully come to fruition in 2015 but rather much later down the line. However, as Malcolm X once said, "The future belongs to those who prepare for it today."
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