Revolutionizing Mass Spectrometry: The Cost-Effective Impact of 3D Printed Quadrupoles


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Design for a 3D printed quadrupole mass filter, used in spectroscopy [Source: Wiley]

MIT researchers use additive manufacturing to produce a key mass spectrometer component for just a few dollars and in less than a day.

“Better, Faster, Cheaper” is the mantra of manufacturing, but it also describes 3D printing’s primary advantages over traditional manufacturing methods. The latest example of this comes from a team of researchers at MIT, who have found a way to 3D print quadrupoles—essential components in mass spectrometers—at fractions of the cost and time typically needed to produce them.

Moreover, printing the quadrupole in a single step eliminates the possibility of introducing defects during assembly. As lead researcher Luis Fernando Velásquez-García explained in a press release, it’s the practicality of this development that makes it truly exciting.

“We are not the first ones to try to do this,” he noted. “But we are the pioneers in successfully doing this. There are other downsized quadrupole filters, but they do not match up to the standards of commercial-grade mass filters. This hardware holds immense potential if both the size and cost can be minimized without negatively impacting the performance.”

The miniaturization of mass spectrometers could pave the way for a multitude of new research opportunities. This ranges from examining contaminants in remote Earth areas to reducing the weight of scientific tools onboard aircrafts.

3D Printing and Miniaturization

A quadrupole is comprised of four metallic rods tasked with creating an electromagnetic field. Depending on their unique properties, ions with precise mass-to-charge ratios stay at the field’s center while others flee. By managing the voltage, operators of mass spectrometers can aim for ions with varying mass-to-charge ratios.

Despite the simple structure, miniaturizing quadrupoles presents a challenging task due to manufacturing defects. Furthermore, the reduced size of quadrupoles results in lesser ion collection, thereby decreasing their sensitivity in chemical analyses. “There’s a limitation to how small quadrupoles can get – it’s a balancing act,” stated Velásquez-García.

To overcome these limitations, his team explored the use of 3D printing, thereby constructing 12-centimeter quadrupoles using a glass-ceramic resin through vat photopolymerization. Though the resin as a printable material is relatively new, it can endure temperatures reaching up to 900 degrees Celsius.

What’s more, the 3D printing process allowed for the development of a quadrupole featuring hyperbolic rods. It’s an optimal shape for mass filtering but challenging to achieve via traditional manufacturing techniques. To render them conductive, the team employed electroless plating, coating the quadrupoles with a thin layer of metal film.

“To conclude, we crafted quadrupoles which, despite being extremely compact, were the most precise that our 3D printer could manufacture,” he asserted.

Testing the 3D Printed Parts

The ultimate test of any 3D-printed component is using it to replace an equivalent component produced using traditional means. The MIT team did just that and found that the 3D-printed quadrupoles were capable of achieving the same level of precision as their commercial counterparts.

Read the rest of this story at ENGINEERING.com and Wiley

Original source

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