The arrival of 3D inertial sensors

Study by the Politecnico di Milano on Additive Manufacturing

It is now possible to print inertial sensors with additive manufacturing processes, thus reducing production times and costs. Inertial sensors are devices that capture the movement of an object, defining its position in space and its acceleration-deceleration.

The study by a group of researchers from the Politecnico di Milano was recently published in the journal Additive Manufacturing and demonstrates the possibility of using a combination of printing techniques (stereolithography 3D printing and inkjet printing) to produce millimetre-scale accelerometers, typically used to measure acceleration following shocks, movements, impacts or vibrations. For the active material of the inertial sensor, the devices developed use a piezoelectric polymer capable of generating an electric current when deformed.

The sensors produced have demonstrated the ability to detect various levels of acceleration (up to 10 g, ten times the acceleration in the Earth's gravitational field), with possible applications in autonomous driving systems or portable electronic devices.

The results obtained are early proof of how additive manufacturing processes can be used for production of mesoscale microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), capable of combining mechanical and electrical properties, exploiting polymeric materials as an alternative to silicon.

The development of new materials and the synergy between innovative printing techniques can be the way to develop new devices and solutions that respond to the strong demand for low-cost smart sensors from various industrial sectors and from the Internet of Things (IoT).

The device was manufactured and characterized in the interdepartmental laboratory MEMS&3D at the Politecnico di Milano, which combines the skills of research groups from four departments (Civil and Environmental Engineering, Chemistry, Materials and Chemical Engineering ‘Giulio Natta’ , Electronics, Information and Bioengineering and Mechanical Engineering). 

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