Desktop 3D printing to manufacture high quality micro-motor systems
Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Microsystems Technology Lab have developed a way to make high-quality micro-motor systems (MEMS) using desktop 3D printers. Manufacturing MEMS in this way costs only one percent of the technology available on the market, and the quality is not bad.
MEMS is a very small technical device with a component size typically ranging from 1 to 100 microns. In 2014, the market capacity of MEMS has reached 12 billion US dollars, but the production threshold of this product is very high. To produce MEMS, advanced semiconductor manufacturing equipment must be used, and the cost of manufacturing such equipment is often tens of millions of dollars. Such huge investment requirements have significantly hindered the development of potentially useful devices in MEMS.
But two papers published by researchers at the MIT Microsystems Technology Laboratory recently showed that these financial obstacles are likely to be eliminated soon. In one of these two papers, one proves that the performance of a MEMS gas sensor made with a desktop device is comparable to that of an expensive manufacturing facility, and another paper proves the core of this desktop manufacturing device. Parts can be made with a 3D printer.
It is understood that researchers can reduce the cost of these gas sensors to a small fraction by removing the most expensive parts of the production process, high temperature and vacuum. “Our additive manufacturing is based on low temperature and no vacuum,” said Luis Fernando Velásquez-García, lead research scientist at the Microsystems Technology Laboratory and senior author of two papers. “The highest temperature we use is about 60 degrees Celsius. If you are on a chip, you may need to grow oxides, which grow at about 1000 degrees Celsius. In many cases, a high vacuum is needed in the reactor to prevent contamination. We can make these devices very quickly, from start to finish in just a few hours."
This economical gas sensor mainly uses small sheets of graphene oxide, which is only one atom thick and has unusual electrical properties. Since this graphene sheet is very thin, contact with gas molecules is sufficient to change its electrical resistance, which makes it extremely useful for sensing. “We have compared this gas sensor directly to similar commercial products that sell for hundreds of dollars,” says Velásquez-García. “The result of our arrival is that it is as accurate and faster. We produce products at very low cost – about a few tens of cents – that are comparable to, or even better at, the products on the market.”
In fact, the researchers originally intended to use a more expensive EFI transmitter to fabricate gas sensors using conventional techniques, but they later discovered that there is a 3D printer that can also be used to make transmitters that are the same size and performance as consumer grades. alternatives. 3D printing also enables researchers to customize each component for a specific purpose, which makes the whole process more constructive. “When we started designing them, there might be no concept at all,” explains Velásquez-García. “But within a week, we have the potential to create 15 generations of equipment, each of which will perform better than the previous version.”
Although this study shows the advantages of 3D printing technology in MEMS manufacturing, scholars are very cautious in promoting this good news. “Of course, this paper opens up a whole new technological path for the manufacture of gas microsensors,” said Jan Dziuban, head of the microengineering department at Wroclaw University of Technology in Poland. “From a technical point of view, this technology is easy to use for large-scale manufacturing. This result requires statistical proof. Personal experience tells me that there have been many high-level research papers in the past that introduced a lot of promising materials for new sensors, but in the end there was no reliable product."