AFM cantilever prints 3D objects

Editorial

Rebecca Pool

Friday, January 22, 2016 - 14:15
Image: Microprinting with an AFM cantilever delivers rock solid results.
 
Switzerland-based researchers have revealed striking images of complex microscopic metal components manufactured via 3D microprinting.
 
Refining an electroplating process developed several years ago by ETH Zurich researchers, Luca Hirt from the Laboratory of Biosensors and Bioelectronics and colleagues have fabricated copper objects including nested spirals, printed in a single step without a template.
 
The 3D electroplating method can be used to manufacture nested spirals. Object width is 50 µm. [Hirt L et al/Adv. Mats. 2016]
 
As Hirt highlights, computer-controlled hollow atomic force microscopy cantilevers locally supply metal ions in an electrochemical cell, enabling a localised electroplating reaction.
 
As this process continues, 3D objects are printed pixel by pixel, and layer by layer.
 
"By exploiting the deflection feedback of these probes, electrochemical 3D metal printing is, for the first time, demonstrated in a layer-by-layer fashion, enabling the fabrication of arbitrary-shaped geometries," says Hirt.
 
Microprinting: these objects have widths from 15 to 35 µm [ETH Zurich/Luca Hirt]
 
Right now, the researchers can produce individual 3D pixels, ranging from 800 nm to more than 5 µm, combining these to form larger 3D objects.
 
What's more, they reckon the method can be used to print other metals, and possibly polymers and composite materials.
 
3D objects are printed pixel by pixel, and layer by layer [Hirt/ETH Zurich]
 
They expect the method will eventually be used to manufacture complex watch components or microtools for keyhole surgery.
 
Research is published in Advanced Materials.
 
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