The results are pretty - as the above images attest - but they're also potentially groundbreaking for certain kinds of manufacturing. The new process could be deployed to meet a sharply increasing demand for sensors, antennas, biomedical devices and flexible, wearable electronics.
It works like this: An "ink" composed of silver nanoparticles is sent through the printing nozzle, then instantly annealed with a precisely programmed laser. This allows the machine to built complex free-standing structures in midair, with no need for supporting materials.
Stunning Petal Dress 3D-Printed Just For You
The approach allows for intricate and flexible designs that are otherwise difficult or impossible to achieve, according to designers. The silver structures also feature superior electrical conductivity and can be printed directly onto low-cost plastic substrates.
Details on the new technique were published online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
On Harvard's news page, Donald Ingber - director of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering - says that this new approach to 3-D printing could have a significant impact on the manufacture of critical electronic and biomedical devices.
Self-Assembling 4D-Printed Materials Take Shape
"This sophisticated use of laser technology to enhance 3-D printing capabilities not only inspires new kinds of products, it moves the frontier of solid free-form fabrication into an exciting new realm, demonstrating once again that previously accepted design limitations can be overcome by innovation," Ingber says.
Also, we can make pretty butterfly sculptures. So we've got that going for us. Which is nice.