In Brief

British team creates microscopic 3D printing technique

Tiny component could be used to create nano-computers of future

A British team has pioneered the use of 3D printing on a microscopic level, using the technique to create a new composite material which could be used to store data – and accelerate moves towards nano-computing.

The project is a collaboration between the engineering and chemistry departments of Nottingham University, led by Victor Sans Sangorrin and Graham Newton, who published their results in a scientific journal last month.

They created their tiny component by combining a rigid plastic polymer with photochromic molecules, which change colour when exposed to light.

“This approach could be used to develop materials for energy storage and electronics,” Newton said. “In theory, it would be possible to reversibly encode something quite complex like a QR code or a barcode, and then wipe the material clean, almost like cleaning a whiteboard with an eraser.”

Their innovation is the latest in a field poised to revolutionise manufacturing.

A decade ago, 3D printing was a buzz-phrase, but the technique has so far failed to deliver on its promise. Don’t be fooled, says Wired – the latest innovations in the technique mean the promised revolution is coming “for real this time”.

Ric Fulop, chief executive of Desktop Metal in Massachusetts, told the magazine, “During first 20 years of 3D printing, the technology was too slow and expensive, so its primary use was prototyping. Today, 3D printing is finally starting to be used for high-volume, mass production.”

The latest innovation represents the “digitisation of metal fabrication”, says the magazine. It matters because of the hugely increased flexibility it offers factories. Instead of having to modify an entire production line to create a new component, companies using the new system would be able to change designs instantly.

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