Robotics & Automation

Manufacturing Technique for Metal & Plastic 'Micromachines'

Researchers at ETH Zurich  have developed a technique for manufacturing “micromachines” out of metal and plastic, in which these two materials are interlocked like links in a chain. These microrobots could one day maneuver through blood vessels and deliver medicine. For years, ETH professor Salvador Pané has been working with 3D lithography, a high-​precision 3D printing technique that produces complex objects on the micrometer level. Now, the ETH team has applied this method to produce a kind of mold or template for their micromachines. These templates have narrow grooves that serve as a negative and can be filled with the chosen materials. Using electrochemical deposition, the scientists fill some of the grooves with metal and others with polymers before ultimately dissolving the mold away with solvents. As a proof of concept for making micromachines by interlocking materials, the ETH scientists created various minuscule vehicles with plastic chassis and magnetic metal wheels powered by means of a rotating magnetic field.