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 to computers. Simon said: "It's always great seeing the complex and intricate models of devices such as mobile phones or television remote controls that can be produced with 3D printing, but that's it, they are invariably models that don't really function. We set about trying to find a way in which we could actually print out a functioning electronic device from a 3D printer. In the long term, this technology could revolutionalise the way we produce the world around us, making products such as personal electronics a lot more individualised and unique and in the process reducing electronic waste.
“Designers could also use it to understand better how people tactilely interact with products by monitoring sensors embedded into objects. However, in the short term I can see this technology having a major impact in the educational sector for example, allowing the next generation of young engineers 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 can be monitored using existing open-source electronics and freely available programming libraries. A major advantage of using 3D printing is that sockets for connection to equipment such as interface electronics can be printed out instead of connected using conductive glues or paints.”
This research is detailed in the study, A simple, low-cost conductive composite material for 3D printing of electronic sensors, published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE.
The research was funded by the EPSRC project: Novel 3D Printing Technologies for Maximising Industrial Impact (Subproject # 30821) and by the EPSRC UK Research Centre In Nondestructive Evaluation.