Nov 9, 2017 | By Benedict

Researchers at the UK’s University of Nottingham have developed a way to 3D print full functional electric circuits using inkjet printing and UV curing. The circuits contain both electrically conductive metallic inks and insulating polymeric inks.

The field of 3D printing electronics should be buzzing today, with researchers from the University of Nottingham announcing a new a way to print fully functional circuits with a single 3D printing process.

The new method, which the researchers are describing as a “breakthrough,” actually combines 2D electronics circuitry with 3D printing, and can be used to produce multi-material items like 3D antennae and fully 3D printed sensors.

This 3D printing technique supposedly overcomes many of the challenges faced by manufacturers attempting to incorporate both plastic and metal components into complex functional devices.

One of the most important aspects of the new technique is a speeding up of the conductive ink solidification process. UV light is used to solidify these inks, rather than conventional heat sources, which means layers can be printed in less than a minute.

More than that, however, the process can print and cure both conductive and insulating sections of a part at the same time.

“Being able to 3D print conductive and dielectric materials (electrical insulators) in a single structure with the high precision that inkjet printing offers will enable the fabrication of fully customized electronic components,” said Professor Chris Tuck, the study’s lead investigator.

And Tuck stressed the importance of 3D printing for shortening the entire design and fabrication process.

“You don’t have to select standard values for capacitors when you design a circuit,” he said. “You just set the value and the printer will produce the component for you.”

But the real power of the new 3D printing technique is provided by certain silver nanoparticles in the conductive inks, which are capable of absorbing UV light efficiently.

The researchers found that particles in the 50 nm range are able to absorb light at 380-420 nm.

Dr Ehab Saleh and other researchers from Nottingham’s Centre for Additive Manufacturing (CfAM) found that this absorbed UV energy gets converted into heat, evaporating the solvents of the conductive ink and fusing the silver nanoparticles.

After 20 seconds of UV irradiation, a resistivity of around 0.5 µΩ.m can be achieved.

The adjacent printed liquid monomers are not affected by the heating of the silver nanoparticles, but they are also cured by the UV light to form a complete solid part.

This double functionality ultimately allows the researchers to fabricate functional, multi-material items, as the silver inks and liquid monomers can be cured together in a single process.

“Printing fully functional devices that contain multiple materials in complex, 3D structures is now a reality,” said Richard Hague, Director of the university’s CfAM. “This breakthrough has significant potential to be the enabling manufacturing technique for 21st century products and devices that will have the potential to create a significant impact on both the industry and the public.”

To showcase their 3D printing technique, the University of Nottingham researchers fabricated several test items, including a tiny electric car. See it in action below.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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