• Researchers from Neurotechnology, a Latvia-based software development company, are in the process of developing a new type of 3D printing that uses ultrasonic manipulation to build up objects bit by bit. The technology, developed by the company’s Ultrasound Research Group, is currently patent-pending.

    According to Neurotechnology, the new 3D printing method could be used to print or assemble virtually any type of object, as it can be used with a versatile and broad range of materials and components. That is, by using ultrasonic manipulation—a “non-contact” method—the researchers say that anything from tiny submillimeter particles to sensitive electronic components can be manipulated carefully and delicately into a predetermined shape or pattern.

    A prototype of the ultrasonic 3D printer was built by the Ultrasound Research Group and was used to put together a simple but fully functioning printed circuit board (PCB). As can be seen in the demonstration video, the ultrasonic 3D printer prototype uses an array of ultrasonic transducers to move and accurately position a number of small electronic components onto a PCB.

    Throughout the process, an overhead camera monitors the print and provides the transducer array with information on where to place the electronic bits. When all the parts are in the correct place, a laser is used to solder the components onto the PCB board (also a non-contact process).

    “Ultrasonic manipulation can handle a very large range of different materials, including metals, plastics, and even liquids,” explained Dr. Osvaldas Putkis, a research engineer and project leader for the Ultrasound Research Group. “Not only can it manipulate material particles, it can also handle components of various shapes. Other non-contact methods, like the ones based on magnetic or electrostatic forces, can’t offer such versatility.”

    In addition to handling a wide variety of materials, the ultrasonic 3D printing method offers a number of benefits compared to other mechanical manipulation processes. For instance, the shape and size of parts being manipulated can be varied (from the submillimeter to the millimeter range), while the printer can build with very sensitive components without risk of damaging them. It can also handle tiny components without inviting electrostatic forces.

    Though the 3D printing process is still in development and is currently awaiting patent approval, Neurotechnology believes the innovative method could have wide applications and be a useful tool for assembling and 3D printing delicate and precise parts.

    PCB assembled using ultrasonic 3D printing method

    The Ultrasound Research Group specializes in transducer technology and focuses much of its work on “dedicated electronics for array control, ultrasonic field modelling, and ultrasonic particle manipulation.” In order to advance the research and development of its innovative 3D printing method, the group is asking other companies to participate in the research and find applications for the ultrasonic 3D printing process.

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