A team of Dutch researchers have discovered a way to 3D print metal structures of copper and gold.
Evident by recent advancements, 3D printing has become a rapidly evolving field. However, at the moment most machines are limited to plastics and other kinds of softer filaments. Looking to change that, one team of Dutch researchers at the University of Twente have discovered a new way to print metal structures using microscopically stacked droplets of copper and gold, melted by a pulsed laser.
“If metals could be used for 3D printing as well, this would open a wide new range of possibilities. Metals conduct electricity and heat very well, and they’re very robust. Therefore, 3D printing in metals would allow manufacturing of entirely new devices and components, such as small cooling elements or connections between stacked chips in smartphones,” the team writes.
As a major step towards high-resolution metal printing, the group of researchers used a laser to melt copper and gold into micrometer-sized droplets and deposit them in a controlled manner. With this method, a pulsed laser focuses on a thin metal film that locally melts it into a tiny droplet. From there, the drops are carefully positioned onto a substrate to form a disc-like shape, which enables researchers to repeatedly stack them on top of each other to create a sturdy, high-resolution 3D structure..
The team claims that it was able to stack thousands of metal drops into a tiny pillar just 2 millimeters tall and 5 microns in diameter, as well as just about any shape including electrodes and copper circuits. Admittedly, this method still requires some refinement as the high-energy laser currently causes droplets to also land next to the desired location. The team plans to look into this issue to improve its printing capabilities not just in metals, but also metals, gels, pastas and extremely thick fluids.
Intrigued? Read the project’s entire article here.