PARC goes xerographic: Is that any way to make a computer?

Apr 10, 2013 by Nancy Owano weblog
Xerographic micro-assembler. Credit: US 8082660 B2

(Phys.org) —Talk about taking chip assembly to the next level: That 3-D-printer is not only to make the personalized phone case but the phone. At least this idea has some potential with a recent report making the rounds this week, where the author of an article in The New York Times wrote about what scientists at Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) are up to.

They are building on a technique known as xerographic micro-assembly, possibly the future way of printing circuitry for electronics. The approach in the spotlight is based on laser printing, something about which Xerox knows more than a little. The machines they designed for their explorations is a laser printer like machine with the ability to precisely position large numbers of chiplets, tiny-sized chips, on a surface in the right place and in the right orientation. The chip designs are custom-assembled. The PARC researchers have been working on this with financing from the National Science Foundation and from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

Future implications may be desktop manufacturing plants using chiplets to print circuitry for electronic devices. The system could be put to use toward building custom computers one at a time or as a system making a range of smart objects with computing as one of the object's features.

In a discussion of the technical challenges facing this initiative, ExtremeTech concluded nonetheless that if the PARC group can succeed in combining the assembly of electronic and mechanical components in new ways, then "we can look forward to some interesting products."

Back in 2004, PARC's Eugene Chow and Jeng Lu filed a patent for "Xerographic micro-assembler." They defined the ideas as both system and methodology. "The systems and methods involve manipulating charge-encoded micro-objects. The charge encoding identifies each micro-object and specifies its orientation for sorting. The micro-objects are sorted in a sorting unit so that they have defined positions and orientations. The sorting unit has the capability of electrostatically and magnetically manipulating the micro-objects based on their select charge encoding. The sorted micro-objects are provided to an image transfer unit. The image transfer unit is adapted to receive the sorted micro-objects, maintain them in their sorted order and orientation, and deliver them to a substrate. Maintaining the sorted order as the micro-objects are delivered to the substrate may be accomplished through the use of an electrostatic image, as is done in xerography. The substrate with the micro-objects is further processed to interconnect the micro-objects—through electrical wiring, for example—to form the final micro-assembly."

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User comments : 9

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Myno
not rated yet Apr 10, 2013
They defined the ideas as both system and methodology. "The systems and methods..."

That's patent boilerplate. Everyone who files a patent defines "the ideas as both system and methodology."
TheKnowItAll
not rated yet Apr 10, 2013
That 3-D-printer is not only to make the personalized phone case but the phone.

I don't see the correlation. "3-D-printer"? It seems this device only does one layer or did I miss something?
hemitite
not rated yet Apr 10, 2013
TKA,
Maybe the "3-D" part is that the little chips are not entirely flat.

It would be even more impressive if this gizmo also printed the interconnections.
socean
not rated yet Apr 10, 2013
It seems to me that chiplets are going to get smarter and smaller as time goes on. Also, it seems likely that some one will find a way to send the printed material through multiple passes, thus satisfying 3D requirements.

It offers some interesting possibilities... what can you do with components that can behave as a swarm and exhibit other emergent properties?
baudrunner
3 / 5 (2) Apr 10, 2013
I get it. I'm not sure any of you up there do. Study 3D printing technologies: desktop laser stereo-lithography (FORM1 3D printer); 3D paper modeling printer (MCOR); industrial laser sintering processes using powdered metallic alloys; PLA and ABS plastics modeling 3D printers for the desktop (MakerBot); electron beam melting processes; and so on. I can easily see the technology advance to the level that is being discussed in the article, and yeah, I can see them 3D printing entire motherboards in a hundred years or so, or even much sooner.
alfie_null
1 / 5 (3) Apr 11, 2013
I can easily see the technology advance to the level that is being discussed in the article, and yeah, I can see them 3D printing entire motherboards in a hundred years or so, or even much sooner.

Unlikely. For reasons you might not understand.
Elder1
5 / 5 (1) Apr 11, 2013
Having worked for Xerox for 23 years I see both where this comes from and where it is going. For some background on this look up the Xerox patents on "E-Ink", invented at PARC. It requires precise and rapidly changing alignment of small objects shaped like balls that are coated black and white on opposite hemispheres. This is done electrostatically via printed conductive patterns on a substrate. The above article already mentions the interconnections being made at the same time, as in "further processing" such as heat treatment of toners laid down. The dry toners used in the Xerographic process can be and are made either insulating or conductive as well as magnetic or non magnetic.

The 3D printing aspect is already implemented in current colour printers since the colour image is between zero to 4 layers thick.

This is, as is usually the case, is simply an extension of present technology.
Elder1
5 / 5 (1) Apr 11, 2013
Unlikely. For reasons you might not understand


The only thing unlikely about baudrunner's comment is the estimate of 100 years. Make that 5 years or less. The real delay is between functional product and commercialization. There are huge investments in the current way of doing things and they are not abandoned until the equipment must be replaced. I saw a functional colour laser printer at PARC in 1979, long before any such thing was on the market.
baudrunner
3 / 5 (2) Apr 11, 2013
I can easily see the technology advance to the level that is being discussed in the article, and yeah, I can see them 3D printing entire motherboards in a hundred years or so, or even much sooner.

Unlikely. For reasons you might not understand.

It's a rapid prototyping technology, alfie_null, and yes, I understand it all very well. It's obvious that these things are well beyond your ken.

You also probably think that the world is 6,000 years old.

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