HOW TO MAKE A FUEL CELL? ……PRINT IT !

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HOW TO MAKE A FUEL CELL? ……PRINT IT !

 user 2006-06-02 at 11:45:00 am Views: 55
  • #15639

    How do you make a fuel cell? Print it
    The
    technology that helped make black-light posters and concert T-shirts a
    cultural mainstay is now being used to make fuel cells, chip packages
    and PC components.South San Francisco, Calif.-based EoPlex Technologies
    has come up with a technique for producing mechanical components with
    industrial printers. Instead of embossing a logo through thin layers of
    ink piled on top of each other, the company builds components by piling
    thin, patterned layers of ceramics, metals and other materials on top
    of each other and curing the individual layers as the structure takes
    shape.These printed components, which consist of hundreds of layers,
    can also contain fully integrated moving parts, hinges or sealed air
    chambers.Although these parts can be cranked out now with conventional
    manufacturing techniques, EoPlex claims that its technology will
    greatly reduce the cost. Many parts can be produced simultaneously and
    with less need of micromachining or assembly.Cost is a key
    consideration if the futurists–who predict that sensors and computers
    will become ubiquitous–are right. The technique is too beefy to
    produce microprocessors inside sensors, but it can be used to make the
    packages, power supplies and other necessary, albeit less
    “intelligent,” components for pervasive computing.”A fuel cell reformer
    can take two weeks on conventional manufacturing processes. It will
    take us three minutes on a full-scale production line. We can now do a
    prototype in a day,” said Arthur Chait, CEO of EoPlex. “We can
    manufacture fully functional parts.”Several companies have examined
    over the years the possibility of using printers to make parts.
    Traditional manufacturing remains an expensive process involving
    dedicated machinery and production lines. Printers are appealing
    because they can be reprogrammed to print a variety of devices, thus
    drastically cutting capital costs, real estate and even staff
    sizes.Most have concentrated on inkjet printing. Hewlett-Packard, for
    instance, has come up with a way to produce 3D design prototypes, which
    can give engineers a better idea of what a finished product might
    ultimately look like.British inkjet manufacturer Xaar, meanwhile, has
    teamed up with researchers at the University of Manchester to develop
    spray-on human bone cells. Xaar is also working with Sweden’s Thin Film
    Electronics to create memory chips that can be sprayed (rather than
    produced out of the highly expensive lithography and chemical etching
    processes used by chipmakers today).Although EoPlex will likely one day
    incorporate inkjet technology into its offerings, for now it
    concentrates on techniques like screen printing where fluid is pressed
    directly onto a surface by a drum or a plate. Conventional printing may
    not draw as fine lines as inkjet printing, but it costs less.”If you’ve
    ever seen posters printed, the process is similar,” Chait said. “They
    print the yellow, then the red and then the blue.”Unlike posters, each
    stage gets individually cured through heating. A single layer, for
    instance, may contain ceramic material and a polymer. By heating this
    layer after printing, the polymer will evaporate, leaving a void. In
    the next printing layer, metals or a different type of ceramic will
    then fill all or part of the void created in the previous round of
    printing and burning.Right now, the company’s processes can produce
    features measuring less than 50 microns. In the future, EoPlex will be
    able to print features under 10 microns. (A micron is a millionth of
    meter.)In semiconductors, 50 microns is gigantic–about the width of a
    human hair–but for medical probe manufacturers or producers of small
    solar cells, that’s small. Partly as a result of these relatively small
    dimensions, features such as ball-and-socket joints or hinges can be
    produced as an integrated element of a single component (rather than
    represent the marriage of two separate miniature parts). The gap
    between two moving parts actually represents layers of voids created
    during the curing process.The curing also makes the latest layers bond
    to the base of layers that went before it. After 300 rounds of
    stenciling and heating layers, the finished product might emerge.The
    company’s intellectual property largely revolves around coming up with
    various printing fluids for different applications. Some metals have
    relatively low evaporation points and therefore can’t be mixed with
    other ones more tolerant of high temperatures. Some metals also conduct
    electricity better than others; depending on the product being made,
    that can be good or bad. Thus, Chait said, HP is less of a competitor
    than a materials specialist like Japan’s Kyocera.”Typically there are
    certain ceramics that go better with certain metals,” Chait said. “This
    is more material science than printing. The trick is to get the
    materials to work together.”A complete set of printers for producing
    products with the company’s technology costs about $1 million, Chait
    said, and can be squeezed into a space about the same size as a large
    conference room. The start-up right now has the ability to make about
    1,000 components a year, but it hopes to be capable of building 30
    million units a year by 2011.EoPlex, which has received venture funding
    from Draper Fisher Jurvetson and Labrador Ventures, will gain its
    revenue from producing parts rather than licensing its intellectual
    property. Right now, a number of manufacturers are looking at the
    technology, Chait said. The first products made by EoPlex to hit the
    market will probably be fuel cells, he predicted.”They are big, thick,
    complex and involve multiple materials,” he said.