At Stanford University, researchers have unlocked a transformative advancement in 3D printing technology, enabling the rapid production of highly detailed microscopic particles with a wide array of applications. These particles, smaller than visible dust, find utility in drug delivery, microelectronics, microfluidics, and precision manufacturing. However, the intricate coordination required between light delivery, stage movement, and resin properties has historically hindered scalable fabrication of such custom microscale particles.

In a groundbreaking study published in Nature, Jason Kronenfeld, a PhD candidate in the DeSimone lab at Stanford, unveils a novel processing technique capable of printing up to 1 million intricately detailed microscale particles per day. This achievement represents a significant leap forward in particle fabrication, offering unprecedented speed and complexity in production.

The technique builds upon continuous liquid interface production (CLIP), a 3D printing method introduced in 2015 by DeSimone and colleagues. CLIP utilizes UV light projected in slices to rapidly cure resin into desired shapes. Crucially, an oxygen-permeable window above the UV projector creates a “dead zone,” preventing resin from adhering to the window and enabling delicate features to be cured without disruption. This innovation has revolutionized particle printing, accelerating the manufacturing process.

Joseph DeSimone, the Sanjiv Sam Gambhir Professor in Translational Medicine at Stanford Medicine, emphasizes the transformative potential of this approach. By leveraging scalable fabrication, DeSimone envisions driving future industries forward and unlocking new opportunities for innovation.

The newly developed process, known as roll-to-roll CLIP (r2rCLIP), mirrors an assembly line, streamlining production from start to finish. A tensioned film serves as the substrate for printing hundreds of shapes simultaneously. The assembly line then progresses through washing, curing, and shape removal stages, all customizable based on the shape and material properties. This automation replaces the labor-intensive manual processing of previous methods, dramatically increasing production rates.

DeSimone underscores the significance of translational manufacturing science, emphasizing the development of tools capable of scaling from laboratory prototypes to industrial production. The r2rCLIP technique strikes a precise balance between speed and resolution, catering to various applications requiring high-resolution outputs at industrial production volumes.

While other 3D printing processes may offer superior resolution on the nanometer scale, they often sacrifice speed. Conversely, macroscopic 3D printing has found widespread use in mass manufacturing. Stanford’s work bridges the gap between these extremes, offering a versatile approach suitable for a range of applications.

With this breakthrough, Stanford’s research paves the way for transformative advancements in manufacturing, poised to impact industries ranging from healthcare to electronics and beyond.

By Impact Lab