Boosting Piezoelectric Element Production Through Electrostatic Disc Microprinting: An Analysis

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Scientists from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) have showcased the creation of piezoelectric components via electrostatic disc microprinting. These components find application in sensing, actuation, catalysis, and energy harvesting.

The methodology, described in a recent article in Nature Communications, overcomes the issues faced by current techniques that grapple with high productivity and accurate control over the architecture and attribute dimensions of nanoparticles, films, and designs on various substrates.

The crux of this technology stems from exploiting the instability of the liquid-air interface in inks, a phenomenon initially observed in 1917. It was stated then that a robust electrostatic field can destabilize a microfluidic interface, leading to the formation of a Taylor cone, a cone-like shape when the fluid is charged beyond the Rayleigh limit. This electrostatically propelled cone-jetting event, noticed in nature and multiple applications, has stimulated numerous printing strategies, including electrospraying, electrospinning, and droplet focus printing, which are compatible with MEMS and complementary metal oxide semiconductor fabrication techniques.

Electrostatic disc microprinting has exhibited impressive capabilities in the creation of lead zirconate titanate free-standing nanoparticles, films, and micro-patterns. The resultant lead zirconate titanate films demonstrate a piezoelectric strain constant of 560pm V−1, significantly higher than current benchmarks. This innovative technique can achieve depositing rates of up to 10^9 cubic micrometers per second, which is a speed ten times faster than existing methods. Furthermore, it offers flexibility in printing a variety of materials, ranging from dielectric ceramic and metal nanoparticles to insulating polymers and biological molecules. Thus, it serves as a valuable instrument for applications spanning electronics to biotechnology. The method is not constrained to two-dimensional printing; it can also print on three-dimensional contoured surfaces with the feature height depending on the number of deposited layers.

The advent of electrostatic disc microprinting effectively resolves the persistent issues often encountered in piezoelectric material fabrication industry, especially regarding versatility, volume production, processing temperatures, structural compactness, and cost-efficiency. Traditional techniques such as screen printing and photolithography/chemical etching often demand high sintering temperatures and complex processing conditions, and as a result, fail to align with flexible substrates and control over feature sizes.

“Our micro printer exhibits printing capabilities for a broad spectrum of materials such as dielectric ceramic, metal nanoparticles, insulating polymers, and biological molecules,” stated Prof. Yang Zhengbao, an Associate Professor at the Department of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering at HKUST.

“It boasts the fastest speed in existing techniques for piezoelectric micrometer-thick films, and the PZT films we produced demonstrate excellent piezoelectric properties compared to current ones in the market. This new, affordable model of precision printing with features measurable at ~20 μm is surely going to bring benefits to many in the scientific world, and would lead to many breakthroughs that were previously thought impossible.”

3D printing with piezoelectric materials looks promising, with electrostatic disc microprinting poised to play a pivotal role. Its speed, versatility, and efficiency open new avenues for innovation, particularly in MEMS, wearable electronics, and the Internet of Things. The industry can expect further advancements in printing technologies for complex materials, enhancing the efficiency and versatility of manufacturing processes in electronics and related fields​​.

The full research paper, titled “Fast and versatile electrostatic disc microprinting for piezoelectric elements” can be found in the Nature Communications journal, at this link.

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