New 3D printer can print structures only a few microns across

EPFL students have created a high-performance 3D printer capable of printing structures that are extremely small, measuring only a few microns across. The project started when professors at EPFL were looking for a new 3D printer, but the options were either too expensive or not up to the standards required for their work. Professors Christophe Moser and Jurgen Brugger decided to build their own printer.The printer they built is an ultra-thin filament printer capable of printing in both two and three dimensions. The researchers say they had some funding from EPFL to purchase a printer but were unable to find a melt electrowriting (MEW) printer meeting their requirements. Unable to find a commercial offering, the professors decided to put the engineers and students at the college on the project.

Before building the printer, the team had to learn how the MEW technology worked to determine the materials they needed to use to build it. The physical building of the printer was a feat of engineering, but the capabilities of the printer they developed were equally impressive. Their printer can print parts measuring between one and 10 microns in diameter.

That's much smaller than the limit of 100 microns for conventional filament 3D printers. The speed of the printer they created was also a significant feature. Their printer can make a 20 by 20-millimeter structure in about two minutes. In addition, building their own printer gave the team benefits. Since they knew exactly how it worked, configuring the machine was much easier. They can also adjust the printer to different applications making it the perfect tool for teaching and scientific research.

Moser says they developed a basic system that can be adapted and fine-tuned to suit particular materials or requests. The printer was also much cheaper than buying a similar off-the-shelf model that cost as much as Fr.70,000. Their printer also supports many materials, including all types of plastic, allowing them to print different products.