Hackaday Prize Entry: Open Source Electrospinning

Electrospinning is the process of dispensing a polymer solution from a nozzle, then applying a very high voltage potential between the nozzle and a collector screen. The result is a very, very fine fiber that is stretched and elongated down to nanometers. Why would anyone want this? These fibers make great filters because of their large surface area. Electrospinning has been cited as an enabling technology for the future of textiles. The reality, though, is that no one really knows how electrospinning is going to become a standard industrial process because it’s so rare. Not many labs are researching electrospinning, to say nothing of industry.

[Douglas Miller] is building his own electrospinning machine. Except for the ominous warning signs on the 40-kilovolt power supply, there’s nothing in this machine that makes it look any different from a normal, homebrew 3D printer. There are stepper motors inside to raise and lower a carriage, a syringe, and a handy USB port. If you didn’t know any better, you could easily assume [Doug]’s OpenESpin is designed to print fidget spinners and tiny tugboats instead of films of carbon nanotubes and piezoelectric thermoplastics.

The DIY electrospinning machine is really what the Hackaday Prize is all about. It’s an enabling technology anyone can build for a few hundred dollars that also allows real science to happen. The films and blobs being formed in [Doug]’s electrospinning machine could easily find a home in a PhD candidate’s thesis or as a component in cutting edge research on everything from battery technology to the Internet of Underpants.

21 thoughts on “Hackaday Prize Entry: Open Source Electrospinning

    1. So far I haven’t had a problem, and my skin HATES fiberglass. Lol.
      Smaller, looser mats of the materials I’m mostly playing with can be held together with a little heat added post production. It sticks them together pretty well and I don’t lose a whole lot of functionality.
      I am more concerned about breathing them in and I take precautions to make sure I don’t. That goes double when I’m playing around with carbon nanotubes, because it hasn’t really been studied in depth what effect they have on lungs. I’m rather fond of breathing, and I’d like to keep it up for a while longer. :D

    2. Sadly. My gut feeling figures that (long term) inhalation of this will be somewhere in the fun zone of laser print toner/coal miners black lung and the fiber issues of asbestos.

      As for hygiene products?
      Depending on the application, Having the fibers breaking down could possibly lead to another talcum powder & cancer lawsuit.

      Hopefully nothing turns out badly, as I do like it when our new ideas and gadgets don’t end up biting us in the (collective, societal ) rear ends!

    1. All the way down to molecular sieves, and to a point it’s adjustable, size-wise. It depends on settings, basically. I don’t have it that fine tuned yet, but I’m getting there.

  1. Non-woven fabrics (from electrospun fibers) are very well studied and utilised widely in industry, Google books has over 20,000 results for the exact term “electrospun fibers”. They also suck as they fail in ways that are very annoying and not as elegant as woven, knotted or knitted fabrics. However they do have their place, perhaps if they could have their surface contact points chemically cross-linked after fabrication they would be more robust.

    1. Agree with all of the above. In addition, the hygiene industry has mostly not widely adopted electrospun fibers and fabrics because the production rates are typically very slow resulting in fairly high material prices. There are recent advances in meltblown technology that are making it more of a price effective competitor however.

    2. Very well studied, yes. But it’s only in the last few years (since the discovery of carbon nanotubes and graphene) that it’s being given another look at. It’s very hard, for example, to get the tubes lined up in a fiber by other methods. New discovers are being made and published almost weekly right now. But not by citizen scientists. That’s what I want to change.
      Unwoven mats have their drawbacks, but a little post processing can take care of many of them. But that’s not all I’m making. I’m also making very, very thin fibers that are up to 250 mm long, then combining them into strings. The strength/ conductivity is preserved, and if you want to weave them fabrics, you’re good to go.

  2. For textiles ? Then the washing machines won´t filter the broken synthetic fibers bits out, drain those into the oceans, and due to their extreme thinness will be even faster assimilated by micro-organisms.
    It´s really urgent to think ahead the consequences of a new technology on the ecosystems when it goes into mass-production…

    1. My gut feeling tells me that after getting bellow certain length, fibre segments “have no natural enemies” – i.e. there is no natural process to break them down further. In general, it gets harder and harder to for things to absorb force as they become lighter and smaller. So they will probably succumb to some sort of precipitation and sedimentation. If they are attachable to heavy materials, they will fall to the bottom layers, if not, they will get deposited at the shores of open waters and get mixed with whatever covers them. Either way, they can’t stay loose in nature for too long.

  3. First thing that comes to my mind is cotton candy. I assume that one could use liquid form plastic with suitable hardener and omit the heating altogether. Maybe one could even blow fibers with UV lasers ála SLA printing.

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