Plasma-digital nexus: plasma nanotechnology for the digital manufacturing age

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Digital transformation in manufacturing is one of the key megatrends in the development of the global economy and society. Three-dimensional (3D) printing is a transformative digital technology poised to disrupt manufacturing and supply chains across major industries. Here we critically examine relevant insights into current and emerging applications of plasma nanotechnology in printing, including 3D printing. Plasma devices operated at atmospheric pressure coupled with printing processes may help strengthen 3D printing as an emerging fabrication technology that morphs diverse metal powders, polymers, plastics and other materials into digitally designed 3D shapes and patterns. We discuss how plasma applications may help overcome current limitations of 3D printing in various fields, e.g., limitations of sculpting composite materials, lack of mechanical strength and the need for post-processing. Our key focus is on the challenges, opportunities and physical mechanisms of the use of 3D printing in nano-manufacturing, defined as the fabrication of nanoscale building blocks, such as nanoparticles and nanomaterials; their assembly into higher-order (microscale) structures; and the integration of these structures into larger (macro-) scale devices and systems by controlling energy and matter at the nanoscale. Moreover, we discuss the physico-chemical mechanisms that result in highly-conformal deposition of nanostructured materials onto 3D surfaces with microscopic (and possibly nanoscale) control of textures and inter-layer crosslinking, without the need for additional heating. We further highlight the opportunities that arise for plasma nanotechnology to synergize with the emerging digital transformation platforms in surface micro- and nano-structuring using polymers, metals, metallic alloys, and other materials. These new findings in plasma-digital nanoscale fabrication may lead to a new digital manufacturing platform suitable for a number of cutting-edge applications in electronic, sensing and energy devices.

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Fig. 1

(Diagram adapted from (Sculpteo 2017). Image sources: Additive manufacturing— Augmented reality—Microsoft, Big data— (St. Thomas University), Computer numerical control—ZPS America, Smart sensing—, Robotics—ABB, Cloud— and Computer aided design/process simulation— (Norwegian University of Science and Technology) and (BobCADCAM Inc.))

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(Image source: Fraunhofer IST)

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Image Sources (from left to right): Relyon Plasma, Essentium3d and Innophysics

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We sincerely acknowledge the efforts of all researchers who have worked in any of the relevant areas and apologize if any relevant works were not included due to the specific focus and length limits of this article. This work was performed under the CSIRO-QUT Joint Laboratories Agreement. J. H. and B. A. gratefully acknowledge funding by the CSIRO Research Plus Postdoctoral Fellowship scheme. P. J. C. and K. O. thank the Australian Research Council for partial support.

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Hong, J., Murphy, A.B., Ashford, B. et al. Plasma-digital nexus: plasma nanotechnology for the digital manufacturing age. Rev. Mod. Plasma Phys. 4, 1 (2020) doi:10.1007/s41614-019-0039-8

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  • Plasma printing
  • Plasma nanotechnology
  • Additive manufacturing
  • Digital technologies