World's fastest 3D printer on micrometre scale

8 February 2013
By Sofia Mitra-Thakur
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Writing time for a miniaturised spacecraft is reduced to less than one minute (credit Nanoscribe)

Writing time for a miniaturised spacecraft is reduced to less than one minute (credit Nanoscribe)

The world's fastest 3D printer of micro- and nanostructures will be unveiled at the Photonics West fair in San Francisco this week.

Nanoscribe GmbH, a spin-off of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), says the printer is based on a novel laser lithography method and can manufacture the smallest three-dimensional objects, often smaller than the diameter of a human hair, with minimum time consumption and maximum resolution.

“The success of Nanoscribe is an example of KIT’s excellent entrepreneurial culture and confirms our strategy of specifically supporting spin-offs,” said Dr. Peter Fritz, KIT Vice President for Research and Innovation.

“In this way, research results are transferred rapidly and sustainably to the market.”

Nanoscribe was founded in early 2008 as the first spin-off of KIT and is a market and technology leader in the area of 3D laser lithography. 

The 3D laser lithography systems developed by Nanoscribe are used for research by KIT and scientists worldwide.

Work in the area of photonics concentrates on replacing conventional electronics by optical circuits of higher performance.

Nanoscribe systems are used to print polymer waveguides reaching data transfer rates of more than 5 terabits per second.

Biosciences produce tailored scaffolds for cell growth studies among others.

In materials research, functional materials of enhanced performance are developed for lightweight construction to reduce the consumption of resources.

Among the customers are universities and research institutions as well as industrial companies.

By means of the new laser lithography method, printing speed is increased by factor of about 100.

This increase in speed results from the use of a galvo mirror system, a technology that is also applied in laser show devices or scanning units of CD and DVD drives.

Reflecting a laser beam off the rotating galvo mirrors facilitates rapid and precise laser focus positioning.

“We are revolutionising 3D printing on the micrometre scale,” said Martin Hermatschweiler, the managing director of Nanoscribe GmbH.

“Precision and speed are achieved by the industrially established galvo technology.

“Our product benefits from more than one decade of experience in photonics, the key technology of the 21st century.”

The direct laser writing technique underlying the 3D printing method is based on two-photon polymerisation.

Just as paper ignites when exposed to sunlight focused through a magnifying glass, ultra-short laser pulses polymerise photosensitive materials in the laser focus.

Depending on the photosensitive material chosen, the exposed or unexposed volume only is dissolved.

After a developer bath, these written areas remain as self-supporting micro- and nanostructures.

By means of the galvo technology, three-dimensional micro- and nanostructures can be printed rapidly and, hence, on large areas in principle.

At highest resolution, however, the scanning field is limited physically to a few 100 µm due to the optical properties of the focusing objective.

Just as floor tiles must be joined precisely, the respective scanning fields have to be connected seamlessly and accurately.

By the so-called stitching, areas can be extended nearly arbitrarily.

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