Paul Chariot, engineer from Binghamton University, has received a prestigious $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for inventing the electrospray technique, which could revolutionize additive manufacturing technology.
‘Electrospray’ technique, unlike normal inkjet printer, puts tiny particles into a solvent and applies them onto a surface. The normal technique involves putting the material everywhere and etching out the unnecessary parts. This may end up etching away close to 90% of the material. When printing you can simply put the material where you want it to be, says Chariot.
“What we’re trying to do is to control at the smallest length scales what the structure of an individual layer looks like,” says Chariot. This incredible level of control will enable the production of parts with tailored mechanical, thermal, electrical and optical properties.
Magnetic particles lined in a certain way can be used for data storage. Thin layers of gold, being both conductive and transparent, can be used in developing solar cells. Glass particles can be used to coat anti-fogging and anti-frosting properties onto a surface. The researchers are exploring ways to work with graphene and other carbon-based materials.
Electrospray system relies on a small pump and a high-voltage power supply. The setup delivers materials to the nozzle which looks like a syringe. When particles come out in the spray, they comprise of a high electric charge, which keeps them apart. Chariot states that the particles can be repositioned in flight using secondary electric fields.
The system can cover several centimeters of material at the same time and Chariot envisions rows of nozzles stacked side by side which can scale up the manufacturing process considerably.
Glass substrates and flat plastics are predominantly being used at the lab however Chariot is also interested in taking plastic parts from a 3D printer and applying electrospray technique to add coatings onto irregularly shaped objects.
Eventually, small batches of customized products could be made at low costs in the future. Chariot says that the technique may be more attractive for manufacturers since there are very few ‘special’ requirements involved in it. Electrospray works at room temperature with clean and low humidity conditions.
The aim of this research is to make electrospray a major manufacturing tool and taking it beyond the one-centimeter-square samples made in laboratories. “We want to understand this principle fundamentally,” Chariot says, “and then, using that knowledge, we want to develop a manufacturing technique that can lead to new jobs.”
Excerpts and image credits: Binghamton Research