At Carnegie Mellon University, located in Pennsylvania, engineering researchers claim to have been successful in 3D printing ice microstructures. They plan to use these structures as sacrificial templates, allowing them to create internal channels or ducts with the utmost delicacy and precision. With this ice 3D printing process, the researchers hope to develop useful applications for biomedical engineering, advanced manufacturing, and art.
While we usually cover advances in the field of thermoplastics or metals, it is more rare to find innovations that use water as the printing material! It was chosen by these researchers thanks to its biocompatibility and its ability to quickly and easily transform into ice. Of course, the downside to using ice was that the team understandably faced a lot of challenges defining the 3D printing parameters.
The Ice 3D Printing Process
Akash Garg, a doctoral student in mechanical engineering, and Saigopalakrishna Yerneni, a postdoctoral associate in chemical engineering, developed the ice 3D printing process. Specifically, they deposited water droplets onto a cold build platform that was kept at -35°C, allowing the water to turn to ice extremely quickly. Several iterations were necessary before finding the correct print trajectory, nozzle movement speed and droplet deposition frequency in order to create uniform structures with well-defined geometries. All while providing a reproducible pattern. Thanks to the rapid phase change of water and the resistance of ice, the researchers were able to imagine all kinds of shapes without the need for supports.
After several tests, the team was able to create various shapes on a microscopic scale, such as a tree, a propeller and an octopus. Akash Grag explains: “Using our 3D ice process, we can fabricate microscale ice templates with smooth walls and branched structures with smooth transitions. These can then be used to fabricate microscale parts with well-defined internal voids.”
Therefore, these ice structures have been designed to serve as sacrificial templates for designing more complex final pieces. Researchers call this “inside-out” printing or reverse molding. Specifically, once completed, the structures can be bathed in a liquid or gel of a cooled structural material such as resin. Once it has hardened, the water can be easily removed from the piece, either by melting the ice or by turning it into water vapor. This second method offers easy removal after molding, resulting in smooth and precise internal channels.
The team concludes “We believe this approach has enormous potential to revolutionize tissue engineering and other fields, where miniature structures with complex channels are required, such as microfluidics and soft robotics.” You can find more information about this ice 3D printing process HERE.
What do you think about the use of water as a printing material? Let us know in a comment below or on our LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter pages! Don’t forget to sign up for our free weekly newsletter here, bringing the latest 3D printing news straight to your inbox! You can also find all our videos on our YouTube channel.
*Cover photo credits: Prime Time PBC