New Device from Harvard Allows Metal to be Printed in Midair

Trevor English

Modern 3D printing is mostly limited to building things from the ground up on a platform, but researchers at Harvard's Wyss Institute have created a printing method that allows printing with metal in midair. This could mean big things for 3D printing because, without the need for support material in the structure, things can be printed much faster and with a lot more intricacy. The process uses a special form of silver nanoparticle ink that is pushed through the small nozzle where a laser then transfers the precise amount of energy needed to quickly anneal (harden)  the structure and solidify the material. Check out the video below to see a little more about how this process works.

"I am truly excited by this latest advance from our lab, which allows one to 3D print and anneal flexible metal electrodes and complex architectures ‘on-the-fly’ " ~ Jennifer Lewis, Researcher

The printed structures have a width thinner than a human hair, and can be incredibly precise. This means that tiny and intricate nanostructures can now be printed and designed with ease. Perhaps the biggest prospect of this technology is 3-dimensional nano-wiring that could be used in complex electronics without the need for bulky connectors or soldering.

This technology is superior to previous metal printing techniques, according to Harvard, and it can create "complex curvilinear structures" like never seen before.

different trials of printing[Image Source: PNAS]

"This sophisticated use of laser technology to enhance 3D printing capabilities not only inspires new kinds of products, it moves the frontier of solid free-form fabrication into an exciting new realm, demonstrating once again that previously-accepted design limitations can be overcome by innovation" ~ Wyss Institute Founding Director Donald Ingber, M.D., Ph.D.

This advancement will allow printing with superconductive nanomaterials as well as further understanding of how to effectively 3D print with metals using simultaneous annealing. New 3D printing techniques continue to shape what is possible in the realm of rapid prototyping, and this new metal printing technique will open up the industry to new realms.