A Technology Coming Soon to Nano

As the close of 2013 occurs, this blog will be looking toward next year.  3-D printing has become a very widely reported topic, not only in technical circles but also in financial ones.  Why is it being mentioned in a nano blog?  The reason is that everything points to printing on the nano-scale in the not too distant future.  Current limits for accuracy are 16 micrometers or 16,000 nanometers.

3-D printing is an additive manufacturing technique that can make a 3-D solid of almost any shape from a computer model.  The equipment lays./deposits/positions successive layers of liquid, powder, or other material to build a structure from a series of volume cross-sections.  The resultant structure matches the computer model within the placement accuracy of the equipment.  This technology is currently employed in both prototyping and manufacturing.  There are a number of relatively inexpensive 3-D printers available, which are available in the cost range of a powerful home computer. The higher accuracy ones with faster build times can be as high as $1 million or more.  These techniques are being employed for manufacturing improved parts for consumer products.

So how does this impact nanotechnology?  The picture shows the results of an experimental process that created the model, which is only 500 micrometers long.  The printer can produced a hardened 5 meter line of resin in 1 second [Ref. 1].


Current applications of 3-D printing include dental implants, medical prosthetics, jewelry, footwear, and automotive parts.  The ‘Urbee’ was made using a special printer which built up layer upon layer of bodywork – almost as if the car was ‘painted’ into existence, except using layers of ultra-thin composite that are slowly ‘fused’ into a solid [2].


With the coming of printers to the hobbyist, the ability to make replacement item will be accepted as normal, which might have an impact of suppliers carrying spare parts.  The question that needs to be considered is can we also “replicate” food through the 3-D process.  Tomorrow’s blog will address that topic.



[1] http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=5y0j191H0kY

[2] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2041106/Urbee-The-worlds-printed-car-rolling-3D-printing-presses-.html

About Walt

I have been involved in various aspects of nanotechnology since the late 1970s. My interest in promoting nano-safety began in 2006 and produced a white paper in 2007 explaining the four pillars of nano-safety. I am a technology futurist and is currently focused on nanoelectronics, single digit nanomaterials, and 3D printing at the nanoscale. My experience includes three startups, two of which I founded, 13 years at SEMATECH, where I was a Senior Fellow of the technical staff when I left, and 12 years at General Electric with nine of them on corporate staff. I have a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin, an MBA from James Madison University, and a B.S. in Physics from the Illinois Institute of Technology.

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