can be manipulated without fear of electrostatic interference (that manual touching would cause) or breakage.
Ultrasonic manipulation is particularly well suited to applications that require different materials, as well as component assembly. One of the technology’s main advantages is that it can be used for manipulating material particles and components with very different mechanical properties and shapes. Ideally, Neurotechnology envisions that a printer with an ultrasonic gripper could print and assemble a whole product -- a smartphone, for example, by printing the electronics, the screen and the casing.
Neurotechnology’s prototype has also demonstrated its ability to create printed circuit boards (PCBs). In addition, an array of transducers, the device also has a camera that detects the position and orientation of the components and a laser to solder the elements onto the PCB one by one. The camera is also used to calibrate the laser.
“The current prototype demonstrates the assembly of SMD [surface mount device] components and their non-contact welding, not the printing of the actual PCB,” Putkis told Design News . “Potentially, the printing of the PCB could also be implemented together with other modalities, leading to the creation of a very universal printer.”
While the prototype is unique, Neurotechnology is not the only company experimenting with ultrasonic manipulation for additive manufacturing. Fabrisonic, an Ohio-based 3D metal printing service provider, offers an ultrasonic additive manufacturing (UAM) technology that uses ultrasonic vibrations to merge layers of foil stock metals in a solid state via disruption of surface oxide films between the metals (rather than via melting) to create a hybrid additive/subtractive system. The hybrid process allows for the creation of complex parts that feature deep slots; hollow, latticed or honeycombed internal structures; and other complex geometries that are difficult or impossible to create with conventional subtractive manufacturing processes.
For its part, Neurotechnology plans to continue working with the prototype printer to explore its capabilities, potential, and applications.
“This technology is at its early stage and more developments are needed to demonstrate its versatility before it can become a game changer in the 3D printing/assembly industry,” Putkis said. “We are seeking partnerships with companies and universities from the 3D printing industry that would help speed up the application of ultrasonic manipulation technology. Our focus will be on increasing the capabilities of our current technology demonstrator by adding other printing/assembly modalities.”
Neurotechnology’s prototype device is shown below in a video demonstration of the process.