The Development of Microscale 3D Metal Printing

Exaddon’s CERES is a stand-alone microscale 3D print system that offers efficient, robust printing of complex and pure metal objects at the micrometer scale with sub-micrometer resolution.

Image Credit: Exaddon AG

This article explores the CERES print system’s capabilities with a focus on print speed, electrochemistry and the system’s advantages over two-photon polymerization (2PP).

Print Speed and Object Size

In terms of 3D printing speed, the key time-limiting factor is the speed of the electrochemical reaction.

While Exaddon focuses on 3D metal prints, some customers are using the CERES system to dispense certain types of chemicals onto a substrate, for example oils, polymers, or nanoparticles suspended within a liquid carrier. Dispensing such materials is much faster than when printing metal, as there is no electrochemical reaction taking place. The speed of the CERES stages and other hardware is very fast.

Regarding the possible object size, it is a question of the number of voxels that can be printed with one iontip, rather than a total build volume as is typical with other AM providers. This value is dependent on factors such as the structure, print material, and object complexity. The total achievable volume of printed material is dictated by the capacity of the iontip’s ink reservoir – this holds a maximum of 1 µl of ink.

The largest printed object to date is a David statue which is 1 mm tall and is comprised of approximately 360,000 voxels, though this is very large by Exaddon standards, and typical prints are smaller. 

Ink Options

Standard inks are available, and Exaddon currently offers gold and copper inks as production-ready print materials. Customers are also able to develop their own inks and are encouraged to do so by Exaddon.

A key challenge when developing new or custom inks is determining the right ink properties in combination with the CERES system, whereby reduction of the metal is neither too fast nor too slow.

The electroplating speed must be appropriate for the system, and this must be measured with each voxel printed. A laser is used to measure the deflection of the iontip cantilever, ensuring that this matches the speed of the system.

Developing new metal inks is challenging from an electrochemical perspective, and it is necessary to leverage the knowledge of electrochemistry and a robust understanding of the CERES system to achieve this.

It can take some time to achieve the optimum electrochemical properties when developing new inks. When dispensing other materials such as liquids, other factors must also be considered, such as the material’s viscosity, adhesive properties, or whether it is hydrophilic or hydrophobic.

Exaddon offers comprehensive support with this process and is on hand to work with any customer looking to develop the CERES system further.

Advantages Over Two-Photon Polymerization (2PP)

The most notable difference between the CERES system and 2PP is that CERES prints 100% pure metal: from the core to the outer surfaces. CERES is also able to print at a specific location, with a strong connection to the surface of the substrate from the offset. These are the key differences to 2PP.

Numerous studies on 2PP have outlined attempts to incorporate metal parts into resin and then bake and sinter it, but these have yielded limited success when compared to pure metal.

Using 2PP with conductive materials requires users to coat their objects, though this still yields coated polymer objects rather than metal objects. For many users requiring conductive structures, this is not adequate - hence the advantages of using CERES.

Of course, another difference between CERES and 2PP is that it is not possible to 3D print plastic polymers with CERES – they can only be 2D dispensed.

This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by Exaddon AG.

For more information on this source, please visit Exaddon AG.


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