Sep 26, 2018 | By Thomas

Researchers at Purdue Polytechnic Institute and the College of Engineering faculty are working to develop a multi-functional 3D printer that could eventually let people print out “smart” objects, including entire cellphones.

Image credit: Purdue University / Richard Voyles

The project combines 3D structure printing with electronics printing and even algorithms to infuse sensing, computation and actuation throughout the materials, a melding of form and function.

“We are synthesizing new materials that we can print in 3D that embody sensing and computation as well as structure,” said professor Richard Voyles, head of Purdue’s Collaborative Robotics Lab. “Science fiction just keeps producing ideas.”

Voyles said the challenge of the project is in the integration of the different approaches, some thorny issues in moving from 2D electronics to 3D, and solving the material compatibility issues between layers.

3D printers reduce the time and cost and simplify the skills required for prototyping, but while creating the form of a product is possible, adding any necessary functions are a completely separate process.

“Some nice design you create doesn’t include a microprocessor if it needs to do computation, you can’t include sensors if you need sensing,” Voyles said. “You don’t have motors if you need to actually move something.”

3D printing allows creating structures with embedded conductive parts, but no 3D printers exist on the market today that combine the printing of a structure with the printing of electronics, sensing and other functions.

“If we start with soft materials, polymers, that are at least flexible, maybe we’ll get closer to the bigger question of not only can liquids think, as in the Terminator movie, but where will that take us if we create these new materials with “thinking” distributed throughout them,” Voyles said.

As part of the work, researchers are working on printing polymer conducting and semiconducting materials in thin layers that are repeatable, similar to integrated circuits for mass-scale transistors in the 1960s and 1970s.

He noted one example of developing a material with temperature-sensing properties that could expand or shrink depending upon the use.

“These are the precursors we want to explore while we’re developing this next generation ‘form-plus-function’ printer,” Voyles said. Their work could enable entirely new areas of discovery in the fields of smart materials and the basic polymer science of active materials, among others.



Posted in 3D Printing Technology

Source: Purdue University


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