Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.


Electrical and Computer Engineering

Degree Program

Electrical Engineering, PhD

Committee Chair

Popa, Dan

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Harnett, Cindy

Committee Member

Harnett, Cindy

Committee Member

Walsh, Kevin

Committee Member

Druffel, Thad

Author's Keywords

multi-scale; additive manufacturing; 3D printing; robotic assembly; automation; integration


Additive manufacturing (AM) technology is an emerging approach to creating three-dimensional (3D) objects and has seen numerous applications in medical implants, transportation, aerospace, energy, consumer products, etc. Compared with manufacturing by forming and machining, additive manufacturing techniques provide more rapid, economical, efficient, reliable, and complex manufacturing processes. However, additive manufacturing also has limitations on print strength and dimensional tolerance, while traditional additive manufacturing hardware platforms for 3D printing have limited flexibility. In particular, part geometry and materials are limited to most 3D printing hardware. In addition, for multiscale and complex products, samples must be printed, fabricated, and transferred among different additive manufacturing platforms in different locations, which leads to high cost, long process time, and low yield of products. This thesis investigates methods to design, evaluate, and control the NeXus, which is a novel custom robotic platform for multiscale additive manufacturing with integrated 3D printing and robotic assembly. NeXus can be used to prototype miniature devices and systems, such as wearable MEMS sensor fabrics, microrobots for wafer-scale microfactories, tactile robot skins, next generation energy storage (solar cells), nanostructure plasmonic devices, and biosensors. The NeXus has the flexibility to fixture, position, transport, and assemble components across a wide spectrum of length scales (Macro-Meso-Micro-Nano, 1m to 100nm) and provides unparalleled additive process capabilities such as 3D printing through both aerosol jetting and ultrasonic bonding and forming, thin-film photonic sintering, fiber loom weaving, and in-situ Micro-Electro-Mechanical System (MEMS) packaging and interconnect formation. The NeXus system has a footprint of around 4m x 3.5m x 2.4m (X-Y-Z) and includes two industrial robotic arms, precision positioners, multiple manipulation tools, and additive manufacturing processes and packaging capabilities. The design of the NeXus platform adopted the Lean Robotic Micromanufacturing (LRM) design principles and simulation tools to mitigate development risks. The NeXus has more than 50 degrees of freedom (DOF) from different instruments, precise evaluation of the custom robots and positioners is indispensable before employing them in complex and multiscale applications. The integration and control of multi-functional instruments is also a challenge in the NeXus system due to different communication protocols and compatibility. Thus, the NeXus system is controlled by National Instruments (NI) LabVIEW real-time operating system (RTOS) with NI PXI controller and a LabVIEW State Machine User Interface (SMUI) and was programmed considering the synchronization of various instruments and sequencing of additive manufacturing processes for different tasks. The operation sequences of each robot along with relevant tools must be organized in safe mode to avoid crashes and damage to tools during robots’ motions. This thesis also describes two demonstrators that are realized by the NeXus system in detail: skin tactile sensor arrays and electronic textiles. The fabrication process of the skin tactile sensor uses the automated manufacturing line in the NeXus with pattern design, precise calibration, synchronization of an Aerosol Jet printer, and a custom positioner. The fabrication process for electronic textiles is a combination of MEMS fabrication techniques in the cleanroom and the collaboration of multiple NeXus robots including two industrial robotic arms and a custom high-precision positioner for the deterministic alignment process.