3D Printing Logic Gates

It may seem a paradox, but in the future tiny computers may dump electronics and return to their mechanical roots. At the macroscale, mechanical computers are fussy and slow, but when your area is down to a few molecules, electronics have trouble working but mechanical systems do just fine. In addition, these devices don’t use electricity directly, don’t generate electronic signatures, and may be less sensitive to things like radiation that damage electronics. A recent paper in Nature Communications discusses how to 3D print common logic gates using both macro-scale 3D printing techniques and a much smaller version with microstereolithography. You can see a video of gates in action below.

The gates use a bistable flexible mechanism. The larger gates use ABS plastic and measure about 250mm square. The smaller gate measures less than 25 mm square. They also use a special technique to make gates as small as 100 microns theoretically possible, although some of that is future work for the team.

These aren’t the first proposed micromechanical gates. However, many other mechanical designs include a rotational joint to accomplish inversion and this design doesn’t require that. This means it is easier to make and doesn’t suffer from friction and wear problems that other proposals have.

Armed with a functional inverter, the next step was an OR gate. By combining NOT and OR gates, you can easily make a NAND gate, an AND gate, a NOR gate, and any other logic you can dream up.

Mechanical computing is decidedly old school, but not at these scales. Turns out, you can make logic out of almost anything. Even Minesweeper.

17 thoughts on “3D Printing Logic Gates

    1. Rule: “a thin printed line or dash, generally used to separate headings, columns, or sections of text”. Think ruled paper. A ruler is one name for the device used for ruling. (Way too much time spent in the draughting room many years ago…) Yes, “rule” is a more common term for the devise in engineering, patternmaking, and machining.

      1. Engineers use “Scales” not rules. You will never hear an engineer say “hand me that ruler so I can check the scale of this drawing”. All engineers will use a scale to check the scale of a drawing, for example they will use a 20 scale for a drawing that is 1″ = 20′-0″.

  1. While 3d printing is nice and all, it’s far more realistic that we would rely on MEMS based computing. It’s something that has been considered in the aerospace and nuclear sectors for it’s ability to function properly in extreme levels of radiation.

  2. There actually may be little difference between “electronic” and “mechanic” at molecule level. Pushing molecules around is possible (like pushing anything, stones included) thanks to interaction between electrons.

  3. Many years ago I worked at a company that had a fluidic logic products including all the typical and some very atypical logic elements. These devices were fluidic indicating either very clean air or water and could work in environments that were not suitable for electronics. Slow but reliable and you could actually see logic being performed.

  4. For a workable system, there needs to be amplification either built into the logic gate or placed every few gates, otherwise the accumulation of tolerance errors makes the output unusable. You can see it in the video of the toy gates. Look how much force it takes to activate one input — there is no way the output of that gate could drive another gate or two.

    > They also use a special technique to make gates as small as 100 microns theoretically possible

    100 microns? how would this ever compete with electronic gates?

  5. When I was at college we were learning about logic gates. One lesson about logic gates was about non electronic gates. This lesson was about fluidics. These gates used air gas or liquid as the inputs and outputs. Amplification was possible example a small jet of air can deflect a larger jet of air gas or liquid. Creating an inverter, These gates use manifolds and all logic gate types are possible.

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