The 3-D Printing Revolution: 3-D Printed Spinal Cages

spinal-fusion-surgeryAdditive manufacturing has been a boon for many industries, not the least of which is medicine. In the past few years, medical researchers have been able to use the technology to generate custom-made implants for patients, such as skull and jaw implants, or custom-molded mouthpieces for people with sleep apnea. And now, a new type of 3-D printed spine cage has been created that will assist in spinal fusion surgery.

Used as a treatment for conditions such as disc degeneration and spinal instability, spinal fusion surgery is designed to help separate bones grow together into a solid composite structure. This is where the spine cage comes in, by acting as a replacement for deformed and damaged discs, serving to separate the vertebrae, align the spine and relieve spinal nerves from pressure.

3d_printed_spine_cage-2Much like its strength in other areas of medicine, the potential of 3-D printing in spinal fusion surgery lies in the ability to tailor it to the patient’s anatomy. Medicrea, a Paris-based orthopedic implant manufacturer, used custom software and imaging techniques to produce a Polyetherketoneketone (PEKK) spine cage, customized to perfectly fit a particular patient’s vertebral plates.

The surgery was performed in May, with the surgeon since hailing the procedure a success, due largely to the role of 3D printing.Dr. Vincent Fiere, the surgeon who performed the procedure at Hospital Jean Mermoz in Lyon, France, explained:

The intersomatic cage, specifically printed by Medicrea for my patient, positioned itself automatically in the natural space between the vertebrae and molded ideally with the spine by joining intimately with the end plates, despite their relative asymmetry and irregularity.

3d-printed-jawWhile this particular process is patent-pending, Medicrea is hopeful the breakthrough will pave the way for the development of similar implantable devices that can replace or reinforce damaged parts of the spine. Much like other implants that can be made on site and tailored to needs of individual patient’s, it will also speed up the delivery process for potentially life-saving surgeries.

C0mbined with the strides being made in the field of biomedicine (where it is used to create tailor-made organic tissues), 3-D printing is helping to usher in a future where medicine is more personalized, accessible and cost-effective.

Source: gizmag.com

3-D Printed Cancer Cures and Diabetes Tests

future_medicineOne of the greatest benefits of additive manufacturing (aka. 3-D printing) is the way it is making everything – from finished goods to electronic devices – cheaper and more accessible. Modern medicine is also a beneficiary of this field of technology, with new tests and possibilities being produced all the time. In recent weeks, researchers have announced ways in which it might even help lead to a cure for cancer and combat one of the greatest health epidemics of the world.

When it comes to testing cancer drugs, researchers rely on the traditional two-dimensional method of seeing how they work on cancer cells within the confines of a Petri dish. If the drug works well, they move onto the next stage where they see how the drug deals with 3-D tumors in animals. If that goes well, then, finally, researchers start clinical trials on humans. But if it were possible to test these drugs in a 3-D scenario right away, time and money could be saved and effective treatments made available sooner.

petrie_dishesAnd now, thanks to a team led by Dr. Wei Sun of Philadelphia’s Drexel University, this may be possible. Using the techniques of 3-D printing and biofabrication, the research team was able to manufacture tumors by squirting out a mixture of cancerous and healthy biomaterial, dollop by dollop, and create a three-dimensional replica of a living tumor. Because of this, the field of cancer research could be revolutionized.

According to Sun, there’s just as huge a disconnect between what works in two versus three dimensions as there is between what works in animals versus humans. These disconnects are what make developing new cancer drugs so time consuming and expensive. You can’t just rely on a formula when switching to each new environment, testing takes time, results must be documented along the way, and adjustments made at every step.

3dprinted_tumorsWith Sun’s 3-D printing technology, a living tumor can be printed just as easily as cancer cells grow in a Petri dish. The machinery used is capable of printing with extraordinarily high resolution, which allows cells to be placed with incredible precision. The average cell is 20 microns, where as Sun’s system can place individual cells within two to three microns. That means Sun can print out extraordinarily specific, spheroid-shaped tumors in a multitude of different shapes and sizes.

But testing cancer drugs more easily is only one of the many uses of Sun’s technology. Since each tumor is different, there’s the possibility that the technology could be used to simulate individual patients’ cancers in the lab and see which drugs work most effectively on them. What’s more, Dr. Sun indicates that cancer testing is really just the beginning:

Doctors want to be able to print tissue, to make organ on the cheap. This kind of technology is what will make that happen. In 10 years, every lab and hospital will have a 3-D printing machine that can print living cells.

diabetes_worldwideOn another front, 3-D printing technology is offering new possibilities in the treatment of diabetes. Often referred to as a “rich man’s disease”, this condition is actually very prevalent in the developing world where nutrition is often poor and exercise habits are not always up to snuff. To make matters worse, in these parts of the world, the disease is not considered a serious health problem and proper means and facilities are not always available.

Enter the Reach, a cheap new diabetes test developed by a group of students from the Schulich School of Business at York University in Toronto. Relying on 3-D printing technology, the device is aimed at urban “slum-dwellers” who may be threatened with diabetes, but very likely haven’t been checked for it. It’s one of six finalists for this year’s Hult Prize, which challenges students to create social good enterprises.

?????????????????This year’s goal, which was set by Bill Clinton, is to reduce rates of non-communicable diseases among the urban poor. As part of their Social Enterprise Challenge, the 2014 Hult Prize is intended to address the challenge of building “a social health care enterprise that serves the needs of 25 million slum dwellers suffering from chronic diseases by 2019.” And as Dhaman Rakhra, one of the students on the York research team, put it:

We saw that diabetes is growing at the fastest rate among the slum population. It is also a disease that can be addressed, and where you can have an immediate impact. A lot of it is about a lifestyle change, if it’s detected early.

Roughly the size of a postage stamp, the Reach is similar to a home pregnancy test, in that it tests a patient’s urine. If someone’s urine has a certain level of glucose in it – indicating propensity for diabetes – the test changes color. Most importantly of all, the test can be printing out on a normal 3-D printer, making it unbelievably cheap (just two cents a pop!) The students plan to distribute the Square using the Avon business model, where local people will sell on the enterprise’s behalf.

slumsThe Schulich students, who are all undergraduates, plan to refine the idea over the summer, first spending time with a Hult accelerator in Cambridge, Massachusetts, then during a month-long pilot test at a large slum in Mumbai. If they should win the Hult Prize, they will be awarded one million dollars to further develop, refine and finance it. But as Rakhra claimed, the real fun comes in the form of bright minds coming together to come up with solutions to modern issues:

It’s exciting to really show that young people really can make a difference by creating a social enterprise that’s self-sustaining. It’s not something that many young business students really think about as a career path. But it’s definitely something we hope to influence.

The on-site manufacturing of cheap, effective drugs, prosthetics, and medical devices are undoubtedly one of the most exciting aspect of the revolution taking place with additive manufacturing. For starters, it is creating more cost effective ways to address health problems, which is a saving grace for patients and medical systems that are strapped for cash.. At the same time, it shows the potential that new technologies have to address social and economic inequality, rather than perpetuating it.

Sources: fastcodesign.com, fastcoexist.com, hultprize.org

The Glucose Economy

hacking-bacteria-fuel-ecoli-670In the long search to find alternatives to fossil fuels and industrial processes that produce tons of waste, several ideas have been forward. These include alternative energy – ranging from solar, wind, geothermal, and tidal – additive manufacturing, and cleaner burning fuels. All of these ideas have begun to bear some serious fruit in recent years thanks to ongoing research and development. But looking to the long term, it is clear that a complete overhaul of our industrial economy is needed.

That’s where more ambitious ideas come to the fore, ideas like nanotechnology, biotechnology, and what’s known as the “Glucose Economy”. Coined by Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning Chinese-American physicist who also had the honor of serving as the 12th Secretary of Energy under Barack Obama, this concept calls for the development of an economic model that would replace oil with high-glucose alternative fuels.

110302_steven_chu_ap_328Chu conceived of the idea while working as a professor of physics and molecular and cellular biology at the University of California, Berkeley. In short, the plan calls for fast-growing crops to be planted in the tropics – where sunlight is abundant – converted into glucose (of which cellulose, which makes up much of the dry weight of a plant, is a polymer). The resulting glucose and cellulose would then be shipped around much as oil is today, for eventual conversion into biofuels and bioplastics.

As expected, this would render the current system of converting oil into gasoline and plastics – a process which produces immense amounts of carbon dioxide through processing and burning – obsolete. By comparison, glucose fuels would burn clean and produce very little in the way of chemical by-products, and bioplastics would be far more resilient and eco-friendly than regular plastics, and not just because they won’t cause a terrible disposal and waste problem (see Garbage Island).

David-Benjamin-and-the-future-of-architecture-01Another benefit of the this new model is the economic development it will bring to the tropical regions of the world. As far as production is concerned, those regions that stand to benefit the most are Sub-Saharan Africa, Central and South America, and South-East Asia. These regions are already seeing significant economic growth, and a shift like this would ensure their continued growth and development (not to mention improved quality of life) for many generations  to come.

But above and beyond all that is the revolutionary potential that exists for design and manufacturing, with architects relying on specially-designed software to create multi-material objects fashioned in part from biomass. This unique combination of biological processes, computer-assisted design (CAD), and human intelligence is looking to trigger a revolution in manufacturing and construction, with everyday materials to buildings created from eco-friendly, structurally sound, biomaterials.

bio-buildingOne such architect is David Benjamin, a computational architect and principal of the New York-based practice The Living. Together with his collaborators, Benjamin is conducting experiments with plant cells, the latest of which is the production of xylem cells – long hollow tubes plants use to transport water. These are computer modeled and grown in a Cambridge University lab and studied to create materials that combine the desired properties of different types of bacteria.

In addition, they are working with sheets of calcium and cellulose, seeking to create structures that will be strong, flexible, and filigreed. And beyond The Living Thing, there are also initiatives like the Living Foundries Program, a Department of Defense initiative that is hoping to hasten the developmental process and create an emergent bio-industry that would create “on-demand” production.

1394231762-re-making-manufacturing-united-statesNot only would this shave decades off the development process, but also hundreds of millions of dollars. What’s more, Benjamin claims it could take only 8 to 10 years to see this type of biotechnology enter commercial production. Naturally, there are those who oppose the development of a “glucose economy” as advocated by Chu. Beyond the proponents of fossil fuel energy, there are also those advocate nationally self-sufficient resources bases, rather than foreign dependence.

To these critics, the aim of a future economy should be energy independence. In their view, the glucose economy is flawed in that it merely shifts energy dependence of nations like the US from the Middle East and OPEC to the tropics, which could create a whole new slew of geopolitical problems. However, one cannot deny that as alternatives go, Chu’s proposal is far preferable to the current post-peak oil model of frakking, tar sands, natural gas, and coal.

bio-building1And it also offers some new and exciting possibilities for the future, where building processes like additive manufacturing (which is already making inroads into the construction industry with anti-gravity 3D printing, and the KamerMaker House) would be supplemented by using “biohacked” bacteria to grow structures. These structures would in turn be composed of resilient materials such as cellulose and organic minerals, or possibly carbon nanotubes that are assembled by organic processes.

And the amount of money, waste, energy and lives saved would be immense, as construction is currently one of the most dangerous and inefficient industries on the planet. In terms of on the job accidents, it causes some 10,000 deaths and 400,000 injuries a year in the US alone. And in terms of resource allocation and money, construction is labor intensive, produces tons of waste, and is almost always over budget.

hacking-bacteria-bio-light-670Compared to all that, a system the utilizes environmentally-friendly molecules and materials, enhances growing operations, fostered greater development and economic cooperation, and leads to a safer, cheaper, less wasteful construction industry seems immensely preferable. And it does offer a solution of what to do about two major industries that are ailing and in desperate need of modernization.

Boy, it feels like a long time since i’ve done a conceptual post, and the topics do appear to be getting more and more serious. Can anyone recall when I used to do posts about Cool Ships and Cool Guns? Yeah, me too, vaguely. Somehow, stuff like that seems like a far cry from the Internet of Things, Interstellar Travel, O’Neill Cylinders, Space Elevators, and timelines of the future. I guess this little blog of mine has been growing up in recent years, huh?

Stay tuned for more conceptual posts, hopefully something a little lighter and fluffier next time 😉

Sources: inhabitat.com, aspenideas.org, tampabay.com

The 3D Printing Revolution: Furniture and Prosthetics Eyes

bigrep_1As always, it seems that additive manufacturing (aka. 3D printing) is on the grow. On an almost daily basis now, the range of applications grows with the addition of yet another product or necessity. With each and every addition, the accessibility, affordability, and convenience factor associated with these objects grows accordingly. And with these latest stories, it now seems that things like household furniture and prosthetic eyes are now printable!

Consider the BigRep One, a new design of 3D printer that allows users to manufacture full-scale objects. This has been a problem with previous models of printers, where the print beds have been too small to accommodate anything bigger than utensils, toys, models and small parts. Anything larger requires multiple components, which would then be assembled once they are fully printed. However, the BigRep One allows for a build volume of 1.14 by 1 by 1.2 meters (45 x 39 x 47 inches) – large enough to print full-scale objects.

bigrep_2Developed by Berlin-based artist Lukas Oehmigen and Marcel Tasler, the printer is has an aluminum frame, a print resolution of 100 microns (0.1 millimetres), and can print in a variety of materials. These include the usual plastics and nylons as well as Laywood – a mix of wood fibres and polymers for a wood finish – and Laybrick, a sandstone-like filament. It is even capable of being upgraded with Computer Numerical Control (CNC) so that it can carry out milling tasks.

One of the most obvious is the production of furniture and building materials, as the picture above demonstrates. This finely detailed sideboard was created as part of the printers debut at the 3D PrintShow in New York. The printer itself and will start shipping to customers in March/April, with the suggested price is US $39,000 per unit. However, prospective buyers are encouraged to contact BigRep through its website in order to get an accurate quote.

3D_eyesNext up, there’s the exciting news that 3D printing may be able to fabricate another type of prosthetic that has been missing from its catalog so far – prosthetic replacement eyes. Traditionally, glass eyes are time consuming to produce and can cost a person who has lost one (due to accident or illness) a pretty penny. However, UK-based Fripp Design, in collaboration with Manchester Metropolitan University, has developed a new process that offers greater affordability and production.

Compared to the hand-crafted and meticulously painted eyes, which are made to order, this version of replacement eyes are much cheaper and far less time-consuming to produce. And unlike traditional versions that are made from special glass or acrylic, these ones are printed in full color on a Spectrum Z-Corp 510 (a professional industrial printer) and then encased in resin. Each has a slightly different hue, allowing for matching with existing eyes, as well as a network of veins.

3D_nose_earWhile prosthetic eyes can cost as much as much as 3000 pounds ($4,880) and take up to 10 weeks to make and receive after ordering, Fripp Design’s method can print 150 units in a single hour. However, finishing them is much slower because iris customization remains a time-consuming job. As Fripp Design founder Tom Fripp said in a recent interview with Dezeen:

The 3D-printed prosthetic eyes may be ready for market within a year and could be especially popular in developing countries. In addition to eyes, Fripp Design is known for its 3D printed replacement noses, ears, and skin patches; all of the replacement parts that are in high-demand  but have previously been expensive and difficult to produce. But thanks to 3D printing, the coming years will see people who have been forced to live with disfigurements or disabilities living far more happy, healthy lives.

Click on the following links to see more of BigRep‘s design catalog, as well as Fripp Design‘s applications for skin and soft tissue replacements. And be sure to check out this video of the BigRep One demonstration at the 3D PrintShow in New York:


Sources:
cnet.com, cnet.com.au, bigrep.com, frippdesign.co.uk

The 3D Printing Revolution: The KamerMaker House

3dprint_canalhouseMany thanks to Rami for putting me onto this story in the first place. Thanks Rami! For years now, proponents of additive manufacturing (aka. 3D printing) have been looking for ways to expand the technology’s already impressive catalog to include the fabrication of buildings. Whether it is office buildings, apartment blocks, or individual houses, the next great leap for 3D printing is arguably the construction of entire domiciles – or at least the building blocks that go into making them.

Such is the goal of Dus, a Dutch architect bureau that announced last year that it was seeking to create the world’s first 3-D printed home along one of Amsterdam’s many iconic canals. Known as the “3D Print Canal House” project, the plan was to break ground within sixth months, before two other firms got there first with their own new-age designs. Now, almost a year to the day later, they have launched their demonstration project.

landscape_houseIn the long run, it still remains to be seen who will be the first company to create an actual 3D printed home, and Dus’ is up against some stiff competition from companies like fellow Dutchman Janjaap Ruijssenaars with his Möbius-strip shaped Landscape House, and the London-based Softkill Design’s fibrous, naturalistic ProtoHouse. Both design concepts seek to utilize 3-D printing in order to save time, energy, and eliminate the waste that is associated with traditional construction.

The Landscape House design calls for the economizing of space by turning the floor into the ceiling and the ceiling into the floor in an endless loop, providing all the living space a family needs while staying very compact. The latter concept looks like something out of the pages of a sci-fi novel – an organic, mollusk-like construction made out of fibrous threads of plastic that economize on weight and material usage.

protohouse But unlike these other projects, which rely in part on traditional construction methods (such as poured concrete), the Dus concept is built by printing all of the home components onsite. This is done using a massive printer called the KamerMaker, a 6-meter (20-foot) tall “room-builder” that rests inside a shipping container. This ensures that the manufacturing center is portable and can fabricate all the necessary components on-site, removing a significant amount of transport.

Basically, the KamerMaker is a scaled-up version of the open-source home 3D printer made by Ultimaker, a popular tool with hobbyists, and is currently one of the largest printers on the planet. Since it’s creation, the company has held public demonstrations to showcase the printer at work and fabricate furniture and other household objects. On the company website, they describe the machine as:

…a real architectural pavilion [that could play host to events]. In other words: The KamerMaker itself is a pavilion, that can reproduce small pavilions!

kamermaker-652322But ultimately, the goal of Dus’ demonstration project, which officially launched this month, is not so much to print a functioning house. Rather, as Hedwig Heinsman – a Dus architect and co-founder of the company- explains it, the aim is to discover and share the potential uses of 3D printing in construction by creating new materials, trying out designs and testing building techniques to see what works.

Heinsman also points out that parts of the house will likely be built and re-built several times over the next three years as 3-D printing technology develops. In the meantime, Dus has opened up an expo center at the site of the 3D Print Canal House so the public can witness the creation process and learn more about the technology involved. For those who may be in the of Amsterdam, tickets to the expo are € 2.50 (roughly $3.50 US/ $3.86 CA), and the hours of operation are available at their website.

And be sure to enjoy this video that talks the launch of the 3D Print Canal House, the KamerMaker, and the drive to create the world’s first 3D printed house – courtesy of 3DPI.TV:


Sources:
fastcoexist.com, (2), (3), aol.com, 3dprintcanalhouse.com

The Future is Here: 3-D Printed Brain Scanner

openbciWhen it comes to cutting-edge technology in recent years, two areas of development have been taking the world by storm. On the one hand, there’s 3-D printing (aka. Additive Manufacturing) that is revolutionizing the way we fabricate things. On the other, there’s brain-computer interfaces (BCI), which are giving people the power to control machines with their minds and even transfer their thoughts.

And now, two inventors – Conor Russomanno and Joel Murphy – are looking to marry the two worlds in order to create the first, open-source brain scanner that people can print off at home. Thanks to funding from DARPA, the two men printed off their first prototype headset this past week. It’s known as the OpenBCI, and it’s likely to make brain scanning a hell of a lot more affordable in the near future.

openbci1It includes a mini-computer that plugs into sensors on a black, skull-grabbing piece of plastic called the “Spider Claw 3000,” which can be created with a 3-D printer. Assembled, it operates as a low-cost electroencephalography (EEG) brainwave scanner that connects to a PC, compared to  high-grade EEG machines used by laboratories and researchers that cost thousands of dollars.

But over the past few years, cheaper models have been made by companies like Emotiv, which have in turn allowed a new era of DIY brain hackers to conduct brainwaves experiments. Since that time, everything from games, computer interfaces, personal tracking tools, and self-directed mind enhancement have been available to regular people.

openbci2But Russomanno and Murphy felt the community needed a completely open-source platform if it was truly going to take off – hence the OpenBCI. The hardware to build the headset can be ordered from the company, while the software to run it is available through GitHub, a popular code sharing site. Once procured, people will have the ability to print off, program, and adjust their own personal brain scanning device.

According to Russomanno, the greatest asset of the headset (aside from the price) is the freedom it gives to brain hackers to put their EEG probes anywhere they like:

You don’t want to limit yourself to looking to just a few places on the scalp. You can target up to 64 locations on the scalp with a maximum of 16 electrodes at a time.

As it stands, Russomanno and Murphy have built the prototype headset, but still need to raise money to build the mini-computer that it plugs into. To accomplish this, the two inventors launched a Kickstarter project to fund the development of the Arduino-compatible hardware. Last week, they reached their goal of $100,000, and expect to ship their first systems in March.

openbci3The current design of the hardware, which looks more like a hexagonly-shaped circuit board than a computer, is their third incarnation. In addition to being smaller and Adruino-compatible, the third version is also programmable via Bluetooth and has a port for an SD card. When the hardware starts shipping, Russomanno expects it to kick off a new round of experimentation:

We’ve got about 300 people that have already donated to receive the board. If you’re willing to spend $300 for a piece of technology, you’re definitely going to build something with it.

One of the hallmarks of technological revolutions is the ability to make the technology scalable and more affordable. In this way, its benefits (aka. returns) are able to multiply and expand. And with the help of open-source devices like these that people can create on 3-D printers (which are also dropping in prices) the returns on mind-controlled devices are likely to grow exponentially in the coming years.

In short, the age of mind-controlled machinery may be just around the corner. Good to know they will be obeying us and not the other way around!


Sources:
wired.com, kickstarter.com

Year-End Tech News: Stanene and Nanoparticle Ink

3d.printingThe year of 2013 was also a boon for the high-tech industry, especially where electronics and additive manufacturing were concerned. In fact, several key developments took place last year that may help scientists and researchers to move beyond Moore’s Law, as well as ring in a new era of manufacturing and production.

In terms of computing, developers have long feared that Moore’s Law – which states that the number of transistors on integrated circuits doubles approximately every two years – could be reaching a bottleneck. While the law (really it’s more of an observation) has certainly held true for the past forty years, it has been understood for some time that the use of silicon and copper wiring would eventually impose limits.

copper_in_chips__620x350Basically, one can only miniaturize circuits made from these materials so much before resistance occurs and they are too fragile to be effective. Because of this, researchers have been looking for replacement materials to substitute the silicon that makes up the 1 billion transistors, and the one hundred or so kilometers of copper wire, that currently make up an integrated circuit.

Various materials have been proposed, such as graphene, carbyne, and even carbon nanotubes. But now, a group of researchers from Stanford University and the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in California are proposing another material. It’s known as Stanene, a theorized material fabricated from a single layer of tin atoms that is theoretically extremely efficient, even at high temperatures.

computer_chip5Compared to graphene, which is stupendously conductive, the researchers at Stanford and the SLAC claim that stanene should be a topological insulator. Topological insulators, due to their arrangement of electrons/nuclei, are insulators on their interior, but conductive along their edge and/or surface. Being only a single atom in thickness along its edges, this topological insulator can conduct electricity with 100% efficiency.

The Stanford and SLAC researchers also say that stanene would not only have 100%-efficiency edges at room temperature, but with a bit of fluorine, would also have 100% efficiency at temperatures of up to 100 degrees Celsius (212 Fahrenheit). This is very important if stanene is ever to be used in computer chips, which have operational temps of between 40 and 90 C (104 and 194 F).

Though the claim of perfect efficiency seems outlandish to some, others admit that near-perfect efficiency is possible. And while no stanene has been fabricated yet, it is unlikely that it would be hard to fashion some on a small scale, as the technology currently exists. However, it will likely be a very, very long time until stanene is used in the production of computer chips.

Battery-Printer-640x353In the realm of additive manufacturing (aka. 3-D printing) several major developments were made during the year 0f 2013. This one came from Harvard University, where a materials scientist named Jennifer Lewis Lewis – using currently technology – has developed new “inks” that can be used to print batteries and other electronic components.

3-D printing is already at work in the field of consumer electronics with casings and some smaller components being made on industrial 3D printers. However, the need for traditionally produced circuit boards and batteries limits the usefulness of 3D printing. If the work being done by Lewis proves fruitful, it could make fabrication of a finished product considerably faster and easier.

3d_batteryThe Harvard team is calling the material “ink,” but in fact, it’s a suspension of nanoparticles in a dense liquid medium. In the case of the battery printing ink, the team starts with a vial of deionized water and ethylene glycol and adds nanoparticles of lithium titanium oxide. The mixture is homogenized, then centrifuged to separate out any larger particles, and the battery ink is formed.

This process is possible because of the unique properties of the nanoparticle suspension. It is mostly solid as it sits in the printer ready to be applied, then begins to flow like liquid when pressure is increased. Once it leaves the custom printer nozzle, it returns to a solid state. From this, Lewis’ team was able to lay down multiple layers of this ink with extreme precision at 100-nanometer accuracy.

laser-welding-640x353The tiny batteries being printed are about 1mm square, and could pack even higher energy density than conventional cells thanks to the intricate constructions. This approach is much more realistic than other metal printing technologies because it happens at room temperature, no need for microwaves, lasers or high-temperatures at all.

More importantly, it works with existing industrial 3D printers that were built to work with plastics. Because of this, battery production can be done cheaply using printers that cost on the order of a few hundred dollars, and not industrial-sized ones that can cost upwards of $1 million.

Smaller computers, and smaller, more efficient batteries. It seems that miniaturization, which some feared would be plateauing this decade, is safe for the foreseeable future! So I guess we can keep counting on our electronics getting smaller, harder to use, and easier to lose for the next few years. Yay for us!

Sources: extremetech.com, (2)