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Printer Science

3-D Structures Built Out of Liquid Metal At Room Temperature 72

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the micro-t-1000 dept.
ph4cr writes with news that a few researchers have discovered an alloy that allows them to print 3D structures from liquid metal at room temperature. From the article: "'It's difficult to create structures out of liquids, because liquids want to bead up. But we’ve found that a liquid metal alloy of gallium and indium reacts to the oxygen in the air at room temperature to form a "skin" that allows the liquid metal structures to retain their shapes,' says Dr. Michael Dickey, an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at NC State and co-author of a paper describing the work. ... One technique involves stacking droplets of liquid metal on top of each other, much like a stack of oranges at the supermarket. The droplets adhere to one another, but retain their shape – they do not merge into a single, larger droplet. ... Another technique injects liquid metal into a polymer template, so that the metal takes on a specific shape. The template is then dissolved, leaving the bare, liquid metal in the desired shape. The researchers also developed techniques for creating liquid metal wires, which retain their shape even when held perpendicular to the substrate." The paper is available online. There's also a video of the process in action, below the fold.

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3-D Structures Built Out of Liquid Metal At Room Temperature

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  • Okay (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ledow (319597) on Wednesday July 10, 2013 @09:46AM (#44237501) Homepage

    That's quite impressive. The obvious "next step" in 3D printing, but how realistic is it to a home user? We already have myriad ways to lay circuits etc. out, and the point of 3D printing is not that we could never make little plastic shapes before, but that it's something I can do as much as I like if I buy a 3D printer, raw materials and some model plans, without requiring specialist knowledge or handling.

    Does this let me add metals into my 3d plans? Does this allow me to print circuit boards (hmmm... sounds familiar....)? Or is it just an impractical way of doing the same things with a single alloy that we can do any number of other ways.

    What's the killer application here? Could I 3D print a working set of Christmas lights without having to worry about bulbs, cables, wires, circuits boards, etc? Just have a device with two nozzles that does all the hard work and just churns out the completed product from a plan? I'm guessing not, or at least not before something else will come along and make that possible.

    But, still, it's very nice to watch and dream.

    • Re:Okay (Score:5, Funny)

      by shadowrat (1069614) on Wednesday July 10, 2013 @09:49AM (#44237551)

      What's the killer application here?

      T-1000

    • Re:Okay (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Russ1642 (1087959) on Wednesday July 10, 2013 @09:50AM (#44237577)

      The next step is to find out that you can't get tons of cheap indium and gallium.

      • My question to the PhD's is, "build a 3D printer that works with a hand full of dirt placed in some kind of hopper? energy is both wind and solar." Some kid in Egypt did it if that helps.
    • gallium is expensive (Score:5, Interesting)

      by dmoen (88623) on Wednesday July 10, 2013 @09:55AM (#44237629) Homepage

      I'm paying $25 for a kilogram of 3D-printable ABS filament. A kilogram of gallium is probably close to $1000, based on prices I've seen on ebay.

      • by gl4ss (559668)

        I'm paying $25 for a kilogram of 3D-printable ABS filament. A kilogram of gallium is probably close to $1000, based on prices I've seen on ebay.

        you wouldn't need that much of it for conducting though?

        but do these shapes retain their form if they get touched..

    • Re:Okay (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 10, 2013 @10:01AM (#44237713)

      The 'next step' is probably not printing with eutectic InGal alloys, but with other metals that exhibit the same properties but at higher melting points. One of the paper authors casually mentioned on Reddit that Aluminium happens to have the right properties.

      If you're willing to accept long print times, melting microlitre/picolitre quantities of Aluminium with an induction heating nozzle seems entirely possible to do at home.

      • Even better, I've heard that Aluminum alloys wonderfully with Gallium.

      • Re:Okay (Score:5, Interesting)

        by tlhIngan (30335) <slashdot@wor f . n et> on Wednesday July 10, 2013 @12:01PM (#44239583)

        The 'next step' is probably not printing with eutectic InGal alloys, but with other metals that exhibit the same properties but at higher melting points. One of the paper authors casually mentioned on Reddit that Aluminium happens to have the right properties.

        If you're willing to accept long print times, melting microlitre/picolitre quantities of Aluminium with an induction heating nozzle seems entirely possible to do at home.

        Why not use existing Tin-alloys? the melting point of those isn't that high to begin with, and we have plenty of that in cheap quantities (it's also known as... solder).

      • I can't help but wonder if the folks building these 3D Printers haven't thought about using more than one print head to speed up production time?
    • The fabathome.org 3D printer is open source, has been available for years, and can print a wide range of materials, including conductors. It's never really taken off, probably due to having lower resolution than the popular FDM printers that print with melted plastic. But if you want a home printer that can print objects with a range of materials, including conductors, check it out.

    • Is it really a structure built out of liquid metal, or is it a structure containing liquid metal?
    • by b4upoo (166390)

      Considering the rarity of Indium I look at this as only a first step. Perhaps a droplet of some aluminum or other common metal might be sprayed through a cloud of very cold nitrogen such that it maintains its structure upon landing might be next.
      I do expect 3D printing to alter society as much as the invention of the automobile over a few decades. Imagine most of the items that you purchase being

      • One can only imagine the frustration of Natural Disasters when they leave a path of ruin and destruction; that some machine(s) begin to rebuild immediately afterwards. That includes the unwashed dishes before the disaster.
    • As mentioned by an AC further down, this seems to be most useful for things like self-reparing wires. With far more maleability and ductility that traditional wires you can do a lot more fancy stuff with liquid wires.

    • by Artagel (114272)

      If you go to the article, you can see that this means that you can embed a stretchable wire in a plastic body. The high self-attraction of the metal for itself instead of the plastic means you have a wire that is not going to develop stress and break.

    • That's quite impressive.

      ....

      But, still, it's very nice to watch and dream.

      Dreaming, yes. Any idea what precision is required for electronics? Hint, a lot more than this printer gives you. Also, there are dozens of different metals and non-metals required to make even simple devices, most of which will not easily be formed/combined by such a machine. These printers do not do 1% of what people think they can.

  • by verbatim (18390) on Wednesday July 10, 2013 @09:48AM (#44237543) Homepage

    Can it form complex machines? guns and explosives that have chemicals and moving parts -- or is it limited to forming solid metal shapes like knives and stabbing weapons?

    • Can it form complex machines? guns and explosives that have chemicals and moving parts -- or is it limited to forming solid metal shapes like knives and stabbing weapons?

      No, it's limited to liquid metal shapes that fall apart if you look at them funny.

    • by wbr1 (2538558)
      I don't know, but technically it is a "poly-metal alloy".
  • Liquid metal has been around for a while in fiction, but now in the real world?
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I think the better use for the material is in self healing wires. Stretchable, bendable, maybe even cutable.. then the liquid can re attack to itself.

  • Vid from 0:14 to 0:41 looks a bit like World of Goo...

  • At least this one has high resolution. They didn't show it making complicated things though.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Don't expect to make anything useful. In-Ga alloys are very low melting, often in the hand or even below room temperature.

  • I, for one, welcome our Robert Patick-esque liquid-metal killer-android 3D-printed overlords!
  • by Hentes (2461350) on Wednesday July 10, 2013 @05:15PM (#44243811)

    I don't care how practical it is, I could watch this thing all day long.

  • I think the better use for the material is in self healing wires. Stretchable, bendable, maybe even cutable.. then the liquid can re attack to itself. http://equipmentbds.blogspot.com/ [slashdot.org]">please visit it

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