Traditional 3D printers work by extruding filament – typically either PLA or ABS – layer by layer, building the print from the ground up.
In contrast, this new method, dubbed laser-assisted direct ink writing, prints microscopic, free-standing silver nanoparticle structures.
The heated silver is extruded and immediately hit with a programmed laser that anneals the metal using just the right amount of energy.
The printing nozzle can move on X, Y and Z axes which, when combined with the rotating print stage, enables freeform curvature.
Wyss Institute Postdoctoral Fellow Mark Skylar-Scott, who is the first author of the study, said the most challenging aspect during development was dialing in the exact nozzle-to-laser separation distance.
This allowed them to modulate the printing speed and distance between the nozzle and laser to control the annealing process on the fly.