Credit: Alain Reiser
3D micro-printing process opens up possibilites for fabrication of microscopic metal structures.
Scientists at ETH Zurich spin-off, Cytosurge AG, have developed a new method of 3D printing metallic structures on a micro-scale using its FluidFM technology.
The completely new 3D micro printing process is capable of producing tiny and also partly overhanging structures in a direct and simple process. Currently, similar micro-scale techniques include multiple production steps, such as laser assisted sintering with reactive micro metal particles which can be costly and require intense safety standards. Now the Swiss company believes this technology has the potential to overcome those barriers and offer better efficiency and growth potential to various industrial markets working at micro-scale.
“The newly developed 3D printing method is suitable for applications in various markets. Presently we see potential applications especially in the watch- and semiconductor industry as well as in medical device sector,” Dr. Pascal Behr, co-founder and CEO of Cytosurge explained. “It offers our customers interesting growth potential and possibilities to increase efficiency.”
FluidFM uses a moveable micro-pipette with an opening of only 300 nanometres allowing copper sulphate to flow through. An electrode is then passed through, causing the copper sulphate to form solid copper, which grows on a base plate of gold following the movements of the pipette. A significant advantage of the new method over other 3D micro printing processes is that the forces acting on the tip of the pipette can be measured in real time with high precision.
Luca Hirt, ETH doctoral student and inventor of the new 3D printing technique, commented: “We can use this signal as feedback. Unlike other 3D printing systems, ours can detect which areas of the object have already been printed. This will make it easier to further automate and scale the printing process.”
The method can also be applied to other metals and it has been suggested that it may even be possible with polymers and composite materials.
Cytosurge is further developing the technology for commercial use and is cooperating with established industrial partners to create an independent product line for industrial applications. Some suggested applications already include the manufacture of complex watch components and micro-instruments for surgery.