Sep 30, 2015 | By Kira

The University of Texas at El Paso, in conjunction with its renowned W.M. Keck Center for 3D Innovation, is developing an all-in-one 3D printer that will be capable of assembling metals, electronics and plastics and printing fully functional electronics and industry-quality parts. The $2.1 million research investment was funded in part by America Makes, which has already announced it will open its first Satellite Center on the UTEP campus.

According to the developers, the compact 3D printer, nicknamed the ‘factory of the future’, will be unlike anything else on the market. Though it is being designed with aerospace systems in mind, it will provide unique opportunities for industrial 3D printing companies and small businesses alike thanks to its affordability and unique electronics applications.

While many of today’s 3D printers can only print with a single material at a time and require lengthy post-printing assembly, UTEP’s design will print in multiple materials, including plastics and metals. It will also be able to print and place wires, foils, conductive inks and other components for electronics, and perform common manufacturing processes such as micromachining. Hence the ‘all-in-one’ factory designation, as the singular machine will be able to produce fully functional electronics, from cell phones to satellites, without additional assembly or post-processing.

The 3D printer is also expected to be more affordable than other multi-material 3D printers on the market. “To gain wider adoption of 3D printing technology, a more compact and low-cost approach is necessary—and UTEP is hoping to solve that issue sooner than later,” said Dr. Ryan Wicker, Keck Center Director and project-lead. “We believe this technology will be affordable for small companies and universities, but will also be very attractive to large companies for development and production of next generation components.”

The project will be developed over the next 18 months in collaboration with Draper Laboratory, Northrop Grumman, Stratasys and Applied Systems and Technology Transfer (AST2). They expect to have a prototype of the system within just one year, and commercialization of the finished 3D printer by the end of the 18-month project, which could be as early as Spring 2017.

UTEP has also been involved in a similar project that aims to speed up the 3D printing manufacturing process by introducing a robotic arm that would move objects from one 3D printer to another, bypassing the need for an engineer or operator to manually interfere.

Previously, we covered UTEP’s development of advanced 3D printed UAVs with embedded circuitry, which showcased their technological innovations in the area of 3D printing and 3D electronics.



Posted in 3D Printers





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