Engineers have combined 3D printing with focused ion beam nanofabrication for the production of vibration sensing accelerometres 80% faster then conventional lithography. A vital step towards realizing “The Internet of Things.” (IoT) a proposed network of wifi connected objects and device that could transmit real-time information about their current condition and location to human overseers.
Vibration based Accelerometres can be used to detect faults in a machine by registering irregular pulsing rythyms. Akin to when you know there’s something wrong with your car by the way it sounds. One of the most appealing features of IoT is the ability for machines to sense a fault and order their own repairs seamlessly.
They perform the former through piezo-electricity.
When piezoelectric materials like crystal are exposed to mechanical stress akin to vibration, acceleration or pressure the mechanical energy is converted in to electrical energy inside the material.
In the case of vibrating accelerometres a particular rhythm of vibration is converted in to an electrical rhythm which can then be used to detect irregularities in the device.That is because they should only oscillate within a particular range of wavelengths given their function. So when an irregular vibration is detected the IoT would allow the device to say, order it’s own repairman.
High energy Focused Ion Beams were traditionally used to etch specific channels and shapes in to a piezo-electric material. Akin to a microscopic blowtorch. This process of “milling” makes the refined piezo-electric product easier to “plug in to” traditional microchips.
Now by 3D Printing the substrates surface and simultaneously carving it out with an ion beam the fabrication period has been reduced by 80% compared to traditional semi-conductor facilities.
A simple yet vital step in both improving and decentralizing the production of extremely small, fragile intricate parts needed for advanced electronics. Which could give the future Internet of Things just the boost it needs to go mainstream via improved fault detection.
There are many different styles of 3D printing – From squeezing molten plastic out of a nozzle to laser searing plastic powder in to a solid object. What they hold in common is the ability to melt and dry out entire objects in 3 dimensions rather than building them part by part on an assembly line.
3D printing has several advantages over it’s factory bound progenitor including ease of access and transportability which will reduce barriers to entry when it comes to industrial grade processes. Making it more likely that in the future you could design and print your own smartphone for example.