Electrospray could revolutionize 3D printing

Receiving a five-year, 500,000 USD grant from the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious program for early-career researchers is quite an accomplishment. And Paul Chiarot has ambitious plans to use this money to revolutionize 3D printing. His work may lead to a profound shift in manufacturing technology, one that could improve devices for energy production, healthcare and security. Chiarot developed an electrospray technique that dissolves tiny particles in a solvent and applies them to various surfaces.

Receiving a five-year, 500,000 USD grant from the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious program for early-career researchers is quite an accomplishment. And Paul Chiarot, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Binghamton University, has ambitious plans to use this money to revolutionize 3D printing. His work may lead to a profound shift in manufacturing technology, one that could improve devices for energy production, healthcare and security.

Chiarot developed an electrospray technique that dissolves tiny particles in a solvent and applies them to various surfaces. Because of the properties of the particles, his method can create electronics in a way that is similar to inkjet printing. “The normal way we make things is we put material everywhere and then etch away what we don’t want,” Chiarot says. “You might end up etching away 90 or even 95 % of the material. If you’re printing, you can just put the material where you want it to be.”

PaulChiarot

It is not just a matter of putting material where you want it to be but of controlling its position precisely at every layer. “If you want to be able to get really nice functionality out of a 3D printed part, you want to be able to control what we call structure at the smallest possible length scales,” he says. That sort of control will enable engineers to produce parts with specific mechanical, electrical, thermal and optical properties, Chiarot notes. Magnetic particles arranged in a certain pattern could be used for data storage. A thin layer of gold could be used in touch screens or solar cells because of its conductive properties. To achieve this kind of order, the charged particles that come out of the tiny nozzle of a high-power pump could be repositioned in flight with secondary electric fields.

For Chiarot, a main area of interest is printed electronics, both on flexible surfaces and on 3D printed items with uneven topologies. “In particular, we are interested in combining electrospray printing with other more traditional 3D printing technologies”, Chiarot wrote in an email interview.

Created with GIMP

His current research focus is to understand the fundamentals of electrospray printing of nanoparticle inks. He and his team hope that this knowledge will lead to the creation of a scalable manufacturing process. This could fundamentally change the way electronic devices are produced.

Chiarot’s interest in manufacturing dates back to his days as a PhD student at the University of Toronto where he worked with electrospray and explored its potential. After research as a post-doc fellow at the Rochester University, he joined Binghamton’s faculty in 2011. His current research is an evolution of his earlier projects, including work on electrosprays with biological applications and with Kodak on printing technology. “The capabilities of electrospray make it potentially a powerful tool in additive manufacturing. The State University of New York at Binghamton where I work now has a long history in electronics manufacturing – so my research is an excellent fit”, Chiarot states.