The 3D printing industry never gets old – not yet, anyway. There’s too much that’s new every day, and I hope it stays that way. One particular industry niche that never fails to fascinate is that of 3D printed electronics. Many people were still getting used to the idea of 3D printing anything when 3D printed electronics showed up. I know a few people who can’t get over the fact that I 3D printed a plastic cat figurine; I’ll wait a while before I ease them into the idea of printed circuitry.
Lest you think I’m being a 3D printing snob, however, I will admit that I still find it hard to wrap my mind around the idea of 3D printed electronics. Circuit boards you can print right at your desk? Conductive filament? It seems like magic – and one reason that it’s hard to get used to the idea of printed electronics is that new techniques of printing them and working with them keep emerging so fast that they’re hard to keep up with. Want to talk about magic? Take a look at the work that some researchers in Australia have been doing.
Dr. Enrico Della Gaspera, materials chemist and postdoctoral fellow at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT), has developed a method of printing electronics with either a 3D printer or regular inkjet printer. The technique involves drawing the electrical circuit with a conductive ink, and then – here’s the really magical part – placing it in a “flash chamber” device that hits it with a short, intense camera-like flash of light that changes its properties. It’s electrically insulating when it goes in, and electrically conductive when it comes out.
Working with Dr. Della Gaspera has been his former employer Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), which has done plenty of impressive research with 3D printing already. In fact, last year they invested $6 million in a new industrial metal 3D printing research center and have been responsible for more than a few breakthroughs in medical 3D printing. (Fun fact: they were also the first organization in Australia to use the Internet!)
Dr. Della Gaspera, who earned his PhD in 2011, has done a lot of work in the fields of nanomaterials and optoelectronics. His newly developed electronic circuit printing method could significantly change the way common devices like smartphones, tablets, LED lights and even solar cells are manufactured. His technique is cheaper and more versatile than current electronic production methods, requiring less material and less time.
Moreover, because Dr. Della Gaspera’s method doesn’t require the high temperatures necessary in conventional electronic manufacturing techniques, it can be used to print electronics onto plastic, meaning that it’s well-suited for lightweight, flexible electronic devices. He’s hoping to leverage it in the future to print portable, foldable solar cells that can be used to charge devices while camping, for example.
He also believes that the cheap, portable, and even disposable solar cells and electronics produced with his technology can be used as energy sources in remote, underdeveloped parts of the world. Discuss further over in the 3D Printed Electronics forum at 3DPB.com.[Source/Images: Fresh Science]