on 30 April 18
As if 3D printing couldn’t get any cooler, it has joined concepts with nanotechnology, creating a higher level of possibilities--or should we say lower? Nanotechnology manipulates matter at a near-atomic scale, meaning it can change the order and format of very small atoms coming together.
After decades of basic and applied research, nanomaterials are now used in many consumer products, such as cosmetics, electronics, and medical products. Nanotechnology involves processes that are either bottom-up or top-down. The former refers to construction at the atomic level, using nanobots to assemble products at that scale. The latter, which is the more prevalent method, involves atomically-precise manufacturing using conventional large-scale productions and processes.
Nanotechnology made its debut into the printing industry at the drupa Conference in Germany. The Landa Corporation announced their groundbreaking nanographic printing presses, which ejects water-based nanoink onto a heated transfer blanket. The blanket evaporates the water and leaves an impossibly thin film of ink. Taking it one step further to 3D printers could transform conventional printing as we know it.
The potential of combining the technologies lies here in the top-down process, where nanotechnology can make manufacturing additive at the molecular level. Additive manufacturing is another term for 3D printing, where solid objects are printed or constructed from digital data by building them layer-by-layer.
One of the many factors still holding back 3D printing has been the print speed of an object. Depending on the size of the object, printing can take from several minutes to several hours. However, nanoengineers at the Vienna University of Technology have researched and developed a new technology that can print microscale 3D structures in mere minutes—we’re talking complex objects as small as a grain of sand. These objects are incredibly detailed, using two-photon lithography accomplish this task.
This simultaneous breakthrough in speeding up the printing time and creating complex objects from the top down opens up new areas of application in industries such as medicine. Pharmacies could 3D print drug prescriptions in a matter of minutes, and new advances in technology like the ultrathin heart sock pacemaker might take off. if two-photo lithography could be used to create complex working machines, you could have basic little submarines that float around in your bloodstream.
Not only are scientists using this new technology, but even the entertainment sector is getting in on the action, with toy manufacturers jumping on the bandwagon. A group of Disney engineers demonstrated new 3D technology they are using that allows integrating displays, sensors, and other lighting elements into easy-to-print, cheap objects. Now, LEDs can be directly printed into a toy, instead of being inserted after the initial manufacturing process. This will not only save time, but a lot of money too.
3D printing is a growing trend in the printing industry—it’s just been plagued with a lot of problems. Much like VR and AR, the technology is there… now we just have to figure out how to make it affordable for consumers. If this takes off, the implications of additive manufacturing will be great, causing changes in not only the retail and manufacturing industries, but also others like IT, medicine, design, and even food. With nanotechnology, the potential increases even more - there soon may be no limit to how small, large, thick, thin, or realistic we can print.