About 5D NanoPrinting
The term ‘micromachines’ – also known as ‘Micro ElectroMechanical Systems’ (MEMS) – refers to microscopic devices with moving parts (usually between 1 micron and 1 millimeter long), which are capable of performing a specific task. Such technology is widely diffuse, finding applications that spans from the automotive industry, consumer electronics, and healthcare. The MEMS market share was estimated to be around 50 billion US$ in 2018, and rapidly growing.
Despite the progress made in the fabrication of MEMS in the last decade, the technology currently employed does not allow them to reach their full potential. Limitations in the materials and the fabrications methodologies, as well as the long and expensive development process that many devices need, are hindering the full development of this technology, slowing down the access to the market and increasing prices.
The 5DNanoPrint approach aims to overcome these issues by developing new fabrication strategies based on direct 3D printing at the micron scale via two-photons polymerization processes. Such technique, known as Direct Laser Writing (DLW), consists in the use of focused laser pulses to print the microstructures with extremely high resolution, complexity, and throughput, thus bringing the advantages of the 3D-priting as we know it down to the micrometer dimension.
The researchers involved in the project will combine synthetic and nano-technological approaches to develop innovative performant materials for DLW characterized by specific functionalities – such as responsiveness to light, temperature, and electric fields, the ability to conduct electricity, or dynamic change of their mechanical properties – that allow the dynamic control of the micromachine behavior in real time, thus adding ‘two extra dimensions’ to the standard 3D-printed microstructures (function and time).
In addition, the inherent fast prototyping allowed by DLW compared to the other lithographic approaches currently in use, can speed up the developing of novel technologies, both during research and production.
These breakthroughs, will set a new golden standard for the production of customizable complex 3D microstructures and machines in the future that will benefit those applications where high precision and reliability must meet the small dimensions, such as in minimally invasive implants for medical applications, development of microrobots, and fabrication of more advanced components for consumer electronics.
5DNanoPrinting is a European project funded under the Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) programme, specifically FET-Open, of the EU framework programme for research and innovation (Horizon 2020).