3D printing gets 1000x speed boost with nanometre resolution

The technique could lead to manufacturing-scale production of many functional micro- and nanostructures

Photo: Vu Nguyen and Sourabh Saha

Using a new time-based method to control light from an ultrafast laser, researchers have developed a nanoscale 3D printing technique that can fabricate tiny structures 1000 times faster than conventional two-photon lithography techniques, without sacrificing resolution.

The team of researchers from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) and The Chinese University of Hong Kong disclosed their new 3D printing process in a paper titled “Scalable submicrometer additive manufacturing” published in the Science journal. To get that 1000x printing speed boost, the authors added a twist to a submicrometer additive manufacturing technique known as two-photon lithography (TPL). Despite the high throughput, the new parallelised technique known as femtosecond projection TPL (FP-TPL) also produces depth resolution of 175 nanometres, which is better than established methods, the researchers report.

They demonstrated the fabrication of structures that would need “impossible bridge” with 90-degree overhangs and with more than a 1000:1 aspect ratio of length to feature size. The technique could lead to manufacturing-scale production of bioscaffolds, flexible electronics, electrochemical interfaces, micro-optics, mechanical and optical metamaterials and other functional micro- and nanostructures. The team believes the technique would also work for metals and ceramics that can be generated from precursor polymers.

"Instead of using a single point of light, we project a million points simultaneously," explains Sourabh Saha, the paper's lead and corresponding author. "This scales up the process dramatically because instead of working with a single point that has to be scanned to create the structure, we can use an entire plane of projected light. Instead of focusing a single point, we have an entire focused plane that can be patterned into arbitrary structures."

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