Manufacturing Bits: Jan. 26

Giant vise; self-stacking DSA; micro 3D printing.


Giant vice
Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron (DESY), a research center within the Helmholtz Association, has installed a giant vise or press in its organization.

The vise, dubbed the Large Volume Press (LVP), measures 4.5 meters in height and weighs 35 tons. It can exert a force of up to 500 tons on each of its three axes.

The Large Volume Press is 4.5 meter high and weighs 35 tons (Source: DESY)

The Large Volume Press is 4.5 meter high and weighs 35 tons (Source: DESY)

In operation, the LVP can simulate the interior of planets and synthesize new materials. It can compress samples as large as one cubic centimeter. The samples can also be heated to more than 2,000 degrees Celsius. Researchers can use the X-ray light from DESY’s synchrotron light source to look inside the samples. They can look at the changes in their structure under these conditions.

LVP can be used in several applications. “For instance, we can simulate seismic activity and volcanism,” said Norimasa Nishiyama, a scientist at DESY, on the organization’s Web site. “With the press we can create artificial magma and watch it flow.”

It can also squeeze and synthesize super-hard materials, such as artificial diamond and cubic boron nitride. “Many new superconductors can only be synthesized using this type of instrument,” Nishiyama said.

Self-stacking DSA
For some time, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has been developing directed self-assembly (DSA) technology.

Now, MIT has put a new twist on the technology–self-stacking DSA. Researchers have devised a new technique for stacking layers of block-copolymers. The layers can orient themselves in a perpendicular fashion.

DSA is not a next-generation lithography (NGL) tool per se, but rather it is a complementary technology. When used in conjunction with a pre-pattern that automatically directs the orientation of the block copolymers, DSA can reduce the pitch of the final printed structure.

Most DSA processes enable planar or lateral structures. In contrast, MIT has developed a DSA stacking technology. In the lab, researchers devised two separate polymers based on carbon and silicon.

Images of stacked nanomesh bilayers of cylinders (Source: MIT)

Images of stacked nanomesh bilayers of cylinders (Source: MIT)

In the flow, the polymers repeal each other. In the process, the silicon-based polymers fold. This, in turn, forms cylinders with loops of silicon-based polymer on the inside. The other polymers remains outside the cylinders. Then, the cylinders are exposed to oxygen plasma. The carbon polymer burns away. The silicon then oxidizes, which, in turn, creates glass-like cylinders attached to a base.

The process is repeated. This, in turn, creates a second layer of cylinders using copolymers with different chain lengths. All told, the cylinders in the new layer orient themselves in a perpendicular fashion to those in the first.

These so-called mesh structures could pave the way towards a new class of memory, optical and logic chips.

Micro 3D printing
ETH Zurich has developed a new 3D microprinting technology based on an electro-deposition process.

The technology can be used to make various objects, including small, partly overhanging structures. It could also one day be used to make tiny watch components, microtools and other products.

The new technique is based on FluidFM, which is a system developed at ETH Zurich. Cytosurge, a company that was spun-off from ETH, has been selling a product based on FluidFM. This technology uses a moveable micropipette, which has an aperture 500 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair. It combines atomic force microscopy (AFM) and microfluidics for a range of nano-manipulation tasks.

Today, FluidFM is used in biology. For example, it can be used to sort and analyze cells. It could inject substances into individual cells.

Now, ETH Zurich is exploring the idea of using FluidFM for 3D printing processes. In simple terms, this technique dissolves metals and other substances onto a substrate via an electro-deposit process.

In a potential flow, a droplet of liquid is placed on a gold plate. Then, the tip of the micropipette penetrates the droplet. A copper sulphate solution flows through the pipette. A voltage is applied. This, in turn, causes a chemical reaction under the pipette aperture. The sulphate forms a solid copper.

This, in turn, is deposited on the base plate as a 3D pixel. The pixels range from 800nm to 5 micrometres. Objects can be printed pixel-by-pixel and layer-by-layer. “This method can be used to print not only copper, but also other metals,” said Tomaso Zambelli, associate lecturer and group leader at the Laboratory of Biosensors and Bioelectronics at ETH Zurich.

Cytosurge has licensed this technology. Pascal Behr, chief executive of Cytosurge, said the initial application is rapid prototyping of various products. “We see big market potential in the printing process and an opportunity to further diversify our company,” Behr said. “Now, the task is to optimize this application in collaboration with interested researchers at universities and in industry – for example, in the watchmaking, medical technology and automotive sectors.”

Researchers use a movable micropipette (blue) to manufacture tiny copper objects. (Source: ETH)

Researchers use a movable micropipette (blue) to manufacture tiny copper objects. (Source: ETH)

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