Printing in 3-D is all the rage, but it has, in my opinion, been lacking a certain je ne sais quoi, that all important spark….of electricity.
Not for long though, because scientists at the University of Warwick say they have invented a simple and inexpensive conductive plastic composite able to work in even today’s low-cost 3-D printers.
That means taking 3-D printing from just a fun exercise of arts and crafts, to actually being able to print yourself truly useful items like console game controllers and TV remotes. And let’s face it, who hasn’t ever lost a remote in the black hole down the back of the couch?
The material, nicknamed "carbomorph" allows users to build their designs with electronic tracks and sensors, so printers can print out devices with touch-sensitive areas which can then be connected to a simple electronic circuit board.
A press release from the university says the team -- led by Simon Leigh in the School of Engineering -- has already managed to print objects with embedded flex sensors and touch-sensitive buttons. In the process, the scientists have also been churning out game controllers and other cool, geeky products, like a mug which can tell how full it is.
Leigh shows off a working 3-D printed game controller
The team believes the next step is to work on printing much more complex structures and electronic components including the wires and cables required to connect the devices up to computers.
Of course another big advantage with printable electronics is that the sockets for connection to equipment, like the interface electronics, can be printed out instead of connected using conductive glues or paints.
Leigh said the research would, in the long run “revolutionalize the way we produce the world around us, making products such as personal electronics a lot more individualized and unique.” It would also reduce electronic waste, he said.
“Designers could also use it to understand better how people tactilely interact with products by monitoring sensors embedded into objects,” he added.
Meanwhile, Leigh believes that the short term benefits of his team’s invention could have a major impact in the educational sector, allowing kids and young engineering students “to get hands-on experience of using advanced manufacturing technology to design fairly high-tech devices and products right there in the classroom.”
The printed sensors, said the university, could be monitored using existing open source electronics and freely available programming libraries.
So, if you had access to the material and a 3-D printer, what electronic devices would you make? Let us know in the comments below.
"they're talking about" For the moment, it will come soon enough if the US patent office dont skrew it up for the prior art Open Hardware designers etc...
for instance a version of this http://www.stfc.ac.uk/News+and+Events/5194.aspx
"Miniaturising electronics to the nanoscale"
could be integrated used in future 3D printing in time
along side this http://source.theengineer.co.uk/materials-and-chemicals/plastic-microstructures-with-nanoscale-features-are-fabricated-at-greater-speed/2009271.article for the [flexible] packaging to start with
as more Nano scale micro fluidic's Additive manufacturing/3D printing come online from the smaller industrial units looking for new markets...it#s not just good for biological 100nm manipulation etc http://www.frogheart.ca/?tag=nanocellulose
as you can also do that scale today
such as the kick starter funded FORM 1: An affordable, professional 3D printer
3D Printing Will Be More Fun Than even LEGO :)
you just need to pull yourself out the doldrums and look to the "UK Plastic Electronics Show" and their EU partners for inspiration and collaboration being pulled directly out of their Uni's lab's etc
Ah! A mug which can tell how full it is. Just what the world has been waiting for. Now all I need is a bed that tells me if I am asleep so I dont need to toss and turn, and a device which tells me if its daytime or night time so I dont need to open my eyes when the bed tells me I am awake. *Sigh* Luxury!
For me? I'd use it to make cases for Gabotronics' oscilloscope modules. I bought one of each for Black Friday and intend to make both of them into hand-held, battery-operated test equipment. For my plans, they have just the right form factor and specs. Being able to print a case with a firm grip on the module legs and space for a good Li-Pol battery and charger board (and maybe some day the charger will be printed as well!) fits the bill very nicely. Only one more thing needed: The ability to make thermally-conductive but electrically-isolated heat sync buttes in to the case to carry off heat from the ICs. I'm not all that good with metal working, but I can get a laser etcher or 3d printer to work for me!
If you can deposit conductors, then you can deposit insulators and semiconductor material.
Take a look inside most IC dies and you will see layers of each type of material.
Using a 3D printer approach is within the possibility for future circuts. For experimentation, size will mean little verses getting a prototype circuit working inside 24 hours.
Just a thought.
It's the future and it makes sense. It could actually save the semicon industry as they are now at a point that they need to produce millions of units of the same chip to recover the design and factory costs. That ain't cheap.
The future is likely that we can print our own chips (the technology exists). Not everybody needs the latest/greatest 22 nm chip to design a useful product.
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