3D technology has really taken off in recent years, and is now used to print everything from car parts to buildings. There have also been numerous successful efforts that have combined nanotechnology and 3D printing, and the sections below discuss the specifics in depth.

1. Microbatteries

A team of scientists at Harvard University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign relied on 3D printing to create lithium-ion microbatteries. Each is no larger than a grain of sand, but performs comparably to larger batteries in terms of power, charging rates and energy discharge.

To achieve this feat, the scientists made a custom-built 3D printer that stacked electrodes thinner than one strand of human hair. The printer deposited the electrodes via special ink applied to combs. The ink immediately cured once it was put onto the combs, which resulted in a layered effect. Scientists then put the electrode material into containers and added an electrolyte solution to make battery packs.

2. Circuit Boards

Researchers have also discovered 3D printing works well for forming multilayer circuit boards. Nano Technology is a company that focused on that purpose when it built a specialty 3D printer. It’s called the DragonFly 2020 and features ink depositing and curing systems that can handle multilayer circuit board projects of all types and sizes. One interesting thing about the printer is that it can make full circuit boards or just components, depending on needs.

The DragonFly 2020 might greatly reduce the time it takes to produce printed circuit boards, or PCBs. They are often thought of as the most important parts within the electronics we use every day.

Before PCBs were put into mainstream electronics, the circuit boards were usually comprised of tangled wires that often overlapped and could easily fail if a juncture became faulty. PCBs are preferable to the former technology because circuits can be routed between numerous different parts.

Also, people who have dedicated themselves to understanding the material composition of PCBs know they usually include four layers that get heat-laminated together. The microbatteries example above demonstrates how 3D printing is capable of depositing layer after layer as needed.

3. New-Age Medical Tech

Nanotechnology and 3D printing may also have beneficial uses inside the human body, as indicated by research carried out by scientists exploring ways to encourage new bone growth after a fracture. They’re experimenting with a minuscule, two-dimensional material placed inside a gel. The gel triggers a mechanism that results in bone growth, but does not require proteins, which are called growth factors.

Growth factors are conventionally used to help broken bones heal, but can cause serious side effects. Researchers hope this specialized gel will consistently cause outcomes that are the same or better, without those possible negative factors.

The way the gel is formulated and put inside the body allows it to remain at the site of the injury for a designated length of time. Once the healing process starts, the gel dissolves and gradually becomes replaced by natural tissue. The gel is also advantageous because it becomes significantly stiffer than other comparable substances once injected inside the body. That characteristic reduces the chances it might migrate away from the injured area.

Researchers say short- and long-term experiments with the 3D printed gel and how it promotes bone growth are very promising. They’re also hoping to make it possible for the gel to be surgically implanted rather than injected so it could be used for more severe injuries.

The information you’ve just read should be more than enough to make you feel excited about what can happen when principles of nanotechnology and 3D printing collide. It’ll be interesting to see how things evolve as the two technologies continue to improve.

Image by Kaboompics

Kayla Matthews

Kayla Matthews writes about technology and gadgets for Motherboard, MakeUseOf and The Gadget Flow. To read more posts by Kayla, check out her blog Productivity Bytes.