Nanogrande's Molecular 3D Printing Concept
I’m always thrilled to see new 3D printing processes, and Nanogrande definitely has one.
Nanogrande has developed a very unusual SLA-like process that can be used to 3D print very small objects in quite a wide variety of materials, including metals, ceramics and even polymers. They call it “molecular 3D printing”.
The Montreal-based company has been working on their process since 2014, and began commercialization of the concept with an actual product in 2017. That product is now released: the MPL-1.
You will not find much description about their process on their website, as the company seems quite secretive on many aspects. But during a long conversation I believe we have determined what happens in their machine, at least at a high level. The details, of course, are entirely secret.
Their process begins with a special liquid that is mixed with a powder. The powder is the target material for the printed model, and must be composed of particles of very small size. In fact, Nanogrande explains that the particles should optimally be around 1 micron in size. This is actually a larger particle size than one would typically find in other 3D printing processes.
A very, very thin layer of this liquid mix is laid down. How thin? Nanogrande says 1nm. One, single nanometer! That’s 0.000001mm.
This layer is then somehow (not revealed by Nanogrande) moved to the build platform. I might speculate, without seeing the innards of the machine, that this might be attempted with a rolling drum, as you might see in a 2D printing machine.
Once in place on the build platform, several different fusing processes can be employed to solidify the material. If 3D printing metal, then a laser could be used. If 3D printing polymer, then a binder could be added, for example.
You might be wondering how the loose particles suspended in the solution are actually bound together, as they would be floating free in the liquid. The answer is that the Nanogrande process uses fluid dynamics to make the layer. It seems like the liquid evaporates, but as it does so the suspended particles are pushed together so that they are adjacent.
The process continues adding and binding layers together until the object is complete. Then it is removed from the printer and whatever post-processing steps are undertaken.
Their process takes place inside their first machine, the MPL-1, which has a modest build volume of 100 x 100 x 250 mm. While this may seem small by conventional 3D printing standards, it is actually very large when you consider the size of the parts intended to be printed. In the image at top you can see the typical size of the metal parts produced on the MPL-1 as compared to a standard business card. Very Small!
The idea is that their machine would be able to produce many small parts per each job run. They say the machine is capable of producing thousands of small parts each day!
As I mentioned above, the materials are a bit unusual for this machine, and they must be obtained from Nanogrande in proprietary cartridges. The company says they are very interested in working with clients who require other materials, and can help develop the necessary calibrations for their use.
Nanogrande says the MPL-1 is available for purchase now at a cost of around US$200K.