Swiss scientists reproduced a miniature of Michelangelo’s David: a tiny 3D printed statue is made of pure copper and is not bigger than 1 mm. Now we are going to explain why it is viable to hammer in nails with a microscope.
Exaddon – a subsidiary of Сytosurge, which in its turn was created on the basis of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology of Zurich (ETH Zurich), was reproducing the masterpiece. The scientists have been developing the technology of metal microprinting since 2009.
The original five-meter statue is made of marble and the copy is printed with copper, although the method enables work with other materials, such as titanium, nickel, tin, various alloys, gold, platinum, and silver. The highest demand is exactly in copper (approximately nine out of ten orders), as this technology is used in microelectronics repair and production.
The technology is based on electrolyte deposition of ions and nanoparticles. The printing system consists of a microdose mounted on a cantilever immersed into the electrolyte. Microfluidic system with flow control on the femtoliter scale feeds the liquid, copper sulphate in this particular case, into an electrically conductive substrate. The feeding is implemented via a round nozzle 100-300 nanometers in diameter or through a rectangular one with the sides of 100 nanometers, 1 μm or 2 μm. The process of growing is controlled with the help of a laser.
The structure of the system is similar to atomic-force microscopes and the nails will have to be hammered exactly with a microscope.
Exaddon is improving technology and increasing the productivity and flexibility of the process. The first experiments were connected with 3D printing of spiral structures with predictable difficulties: the only substrate was not enough and it was necessary to use the supporting structures whose production also created some difficulties. The current version of the equipment makes it possible to create overhanging structures at an angle of 90 degrees without any supporting elements. One of technology’s advantages is that the printing is done at room temperature that allows you not to worry about heat deflection.
The positioning precision of Exaddon’s 3D printer Ceres is ± 250 nanometers in a horizontal plane and ± 5 in Z. The build volume is no more than 25х25 mm, but if it is necessary it can be increased to 100х70х60 mm. On the other hand, the printer’s cartridge can contain only a microliter of material, so the increased volume will be useful only for printing a series of tiny objects. The machine prints quite slowly: the growing of a 1 mm statue took about thirty hours.
Is it possible to create even a smaller David? The team has printed one more copy and now it is only 0.1 mm high. The process took them twenty minutes, but the quality has also decreased: you can see it in the picture. Even this technology has its practical limitations because it is still not a molecular assembler.
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