Additive Manufacturing: An Update!

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1. AM of BIO Materials:

In my blog: Additive Manufacturing – A new tool in the toolbox, part 5, I discussed several bio-3-D Printing projects, like skin, and I mentioned Organovo. It is a California company (Gabor Forgacs, the scientific founder of Organovo, is now the executive and scientific director of Clarkson’s Shipley Center for Innovation) that was pioneering the 3-D Printing of organ tissue, with an eye toward actually printing organs on demand. They have had excellent results of late, actually printing functional liver tissue. The liver tissue, created using actual cells from donated human livers, is created by printing each type of liver cell, as well as vascular cells in a hex pattern, and providing nutrients so that the cells “grow” as they would in a human liver, to form the liver tissue structure, as well as replicate the liver functions. The laboratory printed liver tissue, including the micro-vascular-(nutrient-supplying) tissues, provides proteins and glycoproteins for blood nutrients, as well as enzymes for detoxification. (Bad news – the printed liver tissue also generates cholesterol!)

Organovo’s nearest term goal is to provide liver tissue to drug manufacturers, to provide a much more realistic (than 2-D) testbed for drug reaction.  It also will be more effective than animal tissue. As they were successful in generating a few millimeter sized specimen, they set out to test the effects of acetaminophen (toxic to liver cells in high doses) on the tissue, which they did successfully. In their laboratory, they were able to create a sizeable enough sample, make it last 40 days, and successfully test and report dose-level acetaminophen (TYLENOL) effects on the liver tissue, and report it.

Organovo expects to be delivering printed liver tissue to drug manufacturers next year!

Maybe it won’t be too long til we get new organs on demand!

Read more about this success here: Organovo Liver Printing

And Organovo’s press release on the drug reaction results: Organovo Tests Acetaminophen

2. Electronic 3-D Printing:

Georgia Tech, University of Tokyo, and Microsoft Research have collaborated and developed a still-experimental method of printing electronic circuits (conductors only)on a variety of substrates, including PET films. The technique involves ink-jet-like printing of materials, that do not need sintering, which was necessary in past endeavors to print conductive circuitry.  This collaboration can be great news for rapid prototype development of electronic circuitry, but not volume production. Components, such as passives (resistors, capacitors) and actives, (microprocessors, illumination, switches) still need to be manually applied.
3-D printing of electronic circuitry previously has been conducted (pun!) by printing gold, silver, copper inks, via inkjet methods, but the required sintering in order to be conductive.  Sintering at high temperatures would rule out a lot of substrates, such as paper and film. Enter Novacentrix, who has manufactured a $1M flashlamp sintering machine, which renders printed inks to be conductive with low-temperature Xenon flashlamps, and the temperature sensitive substrates survive.

Read about it here: Inkjet Printing of Electronic Circuits

Also in the news is the announcement that CAMTEK, an Israeli company, is introducing a 3-D Printer for Electronic circuits to select customers, before a public product release next year. I couldn’t find any more information about the product, called GreenJet on CAMTECH’s Website, but here’s news of the from the financial press:  CAMTEK’s Greenjet 3-D Printer

3. Micro AM:

A trio of researchers from Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. has undertaken a project to determine processes and treatments for microscopic scale additive manufacturing, using the powder bed fusion (Selective Laser Sintering) (Direct Metal Laser Melting) we discussed in Additive Mfg. …Part 6). They investigate and run trials on parts made that have features and sizes at the limit of resolution (20m)

on the SLS machine. In fact, they have dubbed the process “Select Laser Micro Melting” (SLmM).

Their efforts have paved the way for manufacturers to consider AM of tiniest parts.

The results of years of experiments have shown, first of all, that the standard .stl format for layer data must be modified to provide more line-oriented than contour oriented layering. Selective (by software) “skipping” of continuity of laser melting in a single layer, is needed to allow heat dispersion, to avoid excess clinging of the small-scale powders. This necessitates a home built code in order to process smaill structures.  Since this is difficult to implement on existing SLS machines, the researchers built their own.  Additional issues discovered entail close control of the laser source energy, to avoid powders forming larger or alternative structures, not in the actual design.
Lastly, while the surface features are benign from conventional DMLM, they are on the order of 8m, which is approaching  the scale of the finished part. The experimenters proposed and ran electropolishing (chemically) and mechanical polishing experiments, with good results.

Read more and see the 8mm intricately detailed Eiffel tower model they printed here: SLuM

And, Finally

4.  Mixed Material AM:

Announced at Euromold ’13: 3-D Systems, Inc, an innovator who pioneered the first 3-D Printing technology in the 80’s, and Motorola (Mobility), who pioneered the first cell phone, also in the 80’s have entered a multi-year product development agreement.  Motorola Mobility, a Google Subsidiary, is interested in incorporating additive manufacturing into the production process for smart phones, with the motivation being the mass customization capability that AM affords, with small CAD changes affecting differences in parts easily. This affords personalizable features directly for each cell-phone purchaser. They have formed an agreement with3-D Systems, (which has recently acquired Z-Corp, affording multi-color, 3-D printing,) will be faced with the challenge to provide multi-material capability, not just colors of plastic, but also functional, conductive material in order to print antenna material into the plastic cases.  Additionally, 3-D Systems faces the challenge of production speed achievement, in order to print millions of devices.

This is an opportunity to bring AM into the production limelight, much like the GE LEAP jet engine fuel nozzle I described in Additive Manufacuturing….Part 3.  GE Engineers,  thinking about AM provided a means to manufacture parts that previously involved very complex manufacturing processes, simplified and streamlined by AM.  As this collaboration continues, look for more mass customization and further entry of AM into the production line!

Here’s the article from ETMM:  AM For Cell Phone Production

Enjoy!!

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