3-D printing of phone covers and jewelry continues to occupy headlines but more important part of 3-D printing, the micrometer-scale printing has also shown promise for making medical and electronic devices like heart stents, microneedles for painless shots,gecko adhesives, parts for microfluidics chips, and scaffolds for growing cells and tissue. And now, Nanoscribe, a spin-off from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany, has developed a tabletop 3-D microprinter that can create complicated microstructures 100 times faster than is possible today.
“If something took one hour to make, it now takes less than one minute,” says Michael Thiel, chief scientific officer at Nanoscribe.
The technology behind most 3-D microprinters is called two-photon polymerization. It works by focusing tiny, ultrashort pulses from a near-infrared laser on a light-sensitive material. The material polymerizes and solidifies at the focused spots. As the laser beam moves in three dimensions, it creates a 3-D object. Thiel says it should be possible to speed up his company’s microprinting technique even more by generating multiple light beams with a microlens array.
He says numerous medical, life sciences, and nanotechnology companies are interested in the new machine. “I’m positive that with the faster throughput we get with this new tool, it might have an industrial breakthrough very soon,” he says. Nanoscribe plans to start selling its machine in the second half of this year.