As a matter of fact, one has to get rid of certain misconceptions when it comes to 3D printers: For once, the production with an output 10-20 cm³ per hour is not necessarily fast. Also, the components have to be designed completely from scratch. In addition, printed parts are still individually treated, sanded or polished.
Just pressing the "Print"-button won’t suffice. If 3D printing wants to make the leap into the production scale, the challenges grow along with it: the required longevity and stability is virtually impossible to achieve using printed polymers. Stainless steel, off course, is a different story - but that can no longer be produced "casually" in one's own laboratory, but has to be printed according to CAD templates by specialized service providers.
Vessels from the 3D-Printer
As soon as it is no longer a matter of individual objects, the advantage of additive manufacturing disappears. There are exceptions, with very complex geometries that could not be produced otherwise - or, if vessels are already loaded "as they arise" with reagents. And that's exactly where Prof. Eike Hübner sees great potential. The researcher develops reaction vessels from the printer at the Institute of Organic Chemistry at the Technical University in Clausthal, Germany.
The geometry is suitably designed for use in various measuring devices, explains Hübner. In addition, the reagents are already introduced during printing under inert gas. The vessel is then printed to the end and safely sealed from atmospheric oxygen. The finished cuvette is solvent-resistant and can be heated to temperatures around 100 ° C. Instead of taking samples, reaction and observation take place in a single combined vessel.
The Future has Already Begun
The challenge was not only the requirement to design a printable geometry, but also to ensure compatibility with the laboratory conditions. And of course, disturbances of the measurements by the printing material must be avoided. The scientists in Clausthal are already using printed vessels in their daily work. In the future, laboratories all over the world should be able to download corresponding "blueprints" for their own use. Even further, the vision of incorporating catalysts into the printed material is enough.
Enter the 'Elon Musk of 3D-Printing' – and the 'Chemputer'
Prof. Lee Cronin from Glasgow works in a similar direction: The industrious researcher who describes himself as a "control freak on rehab" is considered something to be the Elon Musk of 3D printing. Cronin sometimes dreams publiclly of “breeding” unmanned aircraft in the chemical bath together with Britsh aerospace and defence giant BAE. Until then, the Scotsman uses his "Chemputer" method to produce complete miniature chemical factories in the 3D printer. Several, only a few centimeters "stirred tanks" are connected to reaction cascades and printed as a common object. This makes complex, multi-step reactions possible. Compared to glass, the yield is somewhat lower, but alternative materials are being researched.
Digitizing chemicals: This BAE video shoiws, how drones could be grown in a reaction vessel:
"The 3D printing business only makes sense for companies in market segments in which value creation levels can be skipped," explains Camelot partner Sven Mandewirth. "It is therefore immensely important to examine the targeted market segments precisely in terms of technical feasibility and market potential." An example of this could be the forward integration, as Wacker has carried out for silicone-based workpieces.
The Pill from the Printer: The Potential of Additive Manufacturing for Pharmaceuticals
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