Assembly of segments using acoustic levitation.

Acoustic levitation system can assemble objects with no physical contact

Image credit: UPNA/NUP-Public University of Navarre

In a collaborative project between Spanish and Brazilian universities, researchers have developed a groundbreaking system that uses acoustic levitation to assemble parts.

The research team has presented 'LeviPrint', a new system that uses acoustic manipulation for assembling objects without physical contact.

LeviPrint is a "levitator", designed alongside a robotic arm and a liquid dispenser that allows the device to "manufacture complex objects without contact", explained Asier Marzo, lead researcher and member of the UPNA/NUP’s Smart Cities Institute (ISC). 

The research was carried out by scientists at the PNA/NUP-Public University of Navarre, in collaboration with researchers at Ultraleap Ltd, UK, and the University of São Paulo, Brazil. The team's conclusions are due to be presented in August in Vancouver, Canada, at SIGGRAPH, the computer graphics and interactive techniques conference. 

“We generate acoustic fields that trap small particles, glue droplets and, most importantly, elongated stick-like elements that can be manipulated and reoriented as we levitate them," the researchers explained. 

"In short, it is a fully functional system for manufacturing 3D structures using contactless manipulation."

Researchers hold a new acoustic levitation system

Researchers hold a new acoustic levitation system / UPNA/NUP-Public University of Navarre

Image credit: UPNA/NUP-Public University of Navarre

As opposed to regular assembly and manufacturing techniques, in which parts are in direct contact with the machine, LeviPrint uses acoustic manipulation to position and orient parts without touching them during the assembly process.

By using this technique, the researchers are looking to make manufacturing processes more versatile, as well as being able to manipulate small brittle parts, liquids and powders. Moreover, the research allows using segments, sticks or beams for the fast and contactless manufacturing of robust, lightweight and complex structures.

"There is less cross-contamination as the manipulator does not touch the material," said Iñigo Ezcurdia, PhD student and lead author of the research.

"Furthermore, it enables manufacturing techniques that cannot be achieved using traditional 3D printing, such as adding elements on top of existing parts or manufacturing inside closed containers from the outside."

Levitation of small particles and droplets has been achieved before. However, according to the research paper, no existing work has managed to trap elongated objects in position and orientation. 

Some of the proposed techniques include the use of a glue that solidifies with ultraviolet light. These structures are usually made by assembling particles and elongated segments using this glue.

The researchers have proposed using the acoustic levitator to trap a droplet of glue dispensed by a syringe. The droplet is levitated into the position where the system picks up a segment or particle, positions it next to the previous ones in contact with the glue and uses ultraviolet light to dry the glue so that the new part is attached to the structure.

Structure created with spherical particles.

Structure created with spherical particles / UPNA/NUP-Public University of Navarre

Image credit: UPNA/NUP-Public University of Navarre

The ultrasonic field used by LevoPrint can pass through fabrics, meshes and other materials, paving the way for other future uses cases. So far, the researchers have been able to achieve many feats with the advice, such as building a ship inside a bottle by levitating materials from the outside through a small opening. They have also identified more ambitious long-term goals. 

"If Leviprint was adapted to operate in aqueous media," they said, "it could assemble complex structures in cell culture media and perhaps even inside living beings”.

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