The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) are setting a high goal for their research into 3D-printing with the Additive Manufacturing of Microelectronic systEms (AMME) programme, aiming to print penny-sized microsystems in with a 500nm resolution within three minutes. 

The goal of AMME will be to make it possible to create microsystems that would be able to integrate mechanical, electrical, or biological subcomponents, and do so while achieving a trifecta of advances in materiel quality, high resolution, and massive print throughput. 

The development of microprocessors is of critical strategic importance to nations with advanced manufacturing bases, and has special significance for defence industries seeking to support the most highly advanced technologies in procurement. 

The Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), the world’s largest semiconductor manufacturing foundry, among other major chip fabrication facilities in Taiwan, has been assessed to be of such strategic importance that an influential research paper suggested the destruction of the facilities in the event of Taiwan’s invasion by China. 

AMNE is trying to tackle the challenge that additive manufacturing processes such as 3D-printing face in maintaining a high throughput of systems while manufacturing high resolution technology. 

Shortages of semiconducting microprocessors during the various supply chain disruptions of the last few years have had notable effects on the capability of major engineering companies to continue production. 

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“AMME is inspired by new insights from selective material synthesis and volumetric additive manufacturing that would enable a new class of microsystems,” said Michael Sangillo, AMME program manager.

“We want to remove design rules imposed by traditional manufacturing tools and demonstrate novel microsystem technologies that create new opportunities for national security and emerging applications.”

“Our objective is to demonstrate a novel, functional microsystem that achieves additive manufacturing advances not possible today – advances like the ability for astronauts to make on-demand repairs in space,” Sangillo said. “AMME will also focus on the commercialisation approach, so we can produce a manufacturing system that can be quickly adopted by the broader industrial community, including DOD and other US government organisations.”

The challenge for AMME is to invent radical new approaches for 3D additive manufacturing, creating precursor materials that are able to be used in multi-material printing that has so far not been possible. 

As well as multi-material printing, AMME seek torrent at a sub-micron resolution at extremely high speeds.

GlobalData’s ‘Thematic Intelligence: 3D Printing’ report identifies the dilemma faced by current additive manufacturing processes in attempting to increase speed of printing and throughput: “Effective 3D printing is not just about having more speed but also getting the right balance between speed and quality. Too little speed increases the risk of imperfections; too much speed may lead to uneven deposition or shifting layers.”

Despite the potential trade-off, the report identifies that the current trend in additive manufacturing is one of much greater speed as the technology advances. 

According to GlobalData, the 3D printing market is predicted to surpass $70bn by 2030, which is expected to have an impact on supply chains and operational capabilities.