3D manufacturing through 3D printer is great since you can create structures that would be very difficult, if not impossible, to create with classic manufacturing methods. However, 3D printers are still pretty slow, and no breakthrough is on sight, and mixing different materials is still tricky, particularly if you are aiming at micro structures.
Now researchers at Northwestern University and at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign have worked out a process that can create micro 3D structures out of 2D printing.
2D printing is easier and quicker (it is also cheaper). Researchers have found a wa to deposit various kinds of materials, including silicon, in a "stretched way". This creates a tension in the layout. Once the 2D printing is released from the holding place the forces of stretching distort the lay out into the third dimension generating 3D structures.
The invention of the team is in the capability of designing 2D layout with the correct stretching so that it will autonomously produce the desired 3D structure. Remember that we are talking about micro structures, so tiny that it would be very tricky to create them directly in 3D.
The stretching is created by depositing the material on a pre stretched layer (with different levels of stretching in the different areas, as required). Once the deposition is done, and the various materials have been bounded one another, the underneath layer is released and this leads to the detachment of the deposited materials and their shaping in the 3D space.
Researchers expect to see applications in several sectors, from optoelectronics to sensors, including those that will be embedded in medical devices on and beneath our skin...