Aerosol jet printing is a form of 3D printing suited for printing small items. It’s also known as Maskless Mesoscale Materials Deposition and has been around since 2004. The word “mesoscale” indicates the small scale of the printing technology. In quantum physics, it is used to describe scales between micrometers and the size of small molecules. As such, this 3D printing technique is never likely to be in anyone’s home. It is, however, alleged that you have something printed with aerosol jet printing in your home though.
Aerosol jet printing can print in a huge range of materials. As long as they can be dissolved in a solvent. The solvent is then pushed through an atomizer to aerosolize it into tiny airborne droplets. These droplets are then corralled into an incredibly tightly controlled spray and fired at the target. The process is generally similar to spray painting, only a lot more precise.
Given the use of what is essentially a precise spray paint can or perfume bottle and the size of the resulting jet, the only things that can be printed in this way are tiny. Tiny electronics, however, are ideal for this purpose. With a conductive material, thin and precise circuits and antennae can be printed. It doesn’t even require the surface to be flat; as long as the jet can be directed to it, it can be printed on. Aerosol jet printing is now commonly used to print antennae for mobile phones. Antenna and sensors are common use cases for it.
Current technologies allow for printing resolutions down to 10 micrometers. This is a significant improvement on the 50-micrometer scale of SLA printing which is already considered excellent. The print speed is also incredibly fast. Typically, a speed of 80mm/s would be regarded as fast in 3D printing. Still, you can reliably print at 200mm/s with aerosol jet printing.
As long as you can dissolve a material in a solvent and aerosolized it, you can print it. This means you can easily print metals and plastics. Additionally, it’s also possible to print with carbon nanotubes and biological material, including enzymes and DNA.
Aerosol jet printing is a great resource for printing excellent details in a range of materials. Unfortunately, it’s not suitable for home use and, realistically, can’t create large enough prints to be interesting to most people. Have you got a project that could use this type of 3D printing? Let us know down below.