A university spin-off company, MagnebotiX, has developed a breakthrough technology that enables the steering of micro robot 'bulldozers' via magnetic fields. Small objects with dimensions in the nano or micrometer scale can be moved and manipulated through the use of these robots.

This is especially interesting in bioengineering, where cellular structures need to be manipulated.

The system is of particular interest to young companies who might need to commercialize their technology but lack the capital to invest in tooling to produce their systems with mass-manufacturing technologies.

MagnebotiX product laser sinteredMagnebotiX say they've found a solution in 3D printing together with Additively. Using laser sintering, the first couple of systems could be produced cost-effectively and be sold to the first customers.

Products like the RodBot, a wireless, mobile, rod-shaped microrobot that is guided and powered by an externally applied magnetic field, use a rolling motion in a low Reynolds number environment to generate fluid flow with a rising component ahead and a traveling vortex. Using this flow pattern, the RodBots select a desired micro-object and transport it to a target location using gentle fluid flow as the sole motive force. The process makes RodBots ideally suited for the manipulation of small, delicate objects in solution, such as for the harvesting of delicate protein crystals.

Formed in 2014 and headquartered in Zurich, a team of researchers and engineers began the development and production of magnetic manipulation systems, including magnetic field generators and micromagnetic agents.

The company says their products support both fundamental and applied scientific and engineering research by taking advantage of the transmission of both power and guidance through applied magnetic fields. The wireless tools are also used as untethered mechanical probes for otherwise inaccessible places and for targeted cargo delivery in minimally invasive biological studies.

The system was originally developed at the Institute of Robotics and Intelligent Systems at the ETH Zürich, Switzerland.

"We had limited knowledge about 3D printing inside MagnebotiX. Without Additively, it would have been difficult for us to find the right 3D printing technology – and the right service provider – for our project," said Dr. Simone Schürle, head of production at MagnebotiX. "For us, 3D printing is a bridge technology allowing us to produce a small number of systems at low cost. Afterwards, we will switch to mass-manufacturing technologies like injection molding."