As it currently stands in 3D printing, if you need electronics integrated with your 3D printed model, you need to print the model and then include the electronics in it. But, the rapid acceleration of 3D printer technology seems to make something new possible each and every day. And now it seems we are making strides towards merging the electronics and the psychical product, in one printing session.
3D printer powerhouse Stratasys and the unique “3D electronics printer” (among other things) company Optomec have been working together to develop a method to deposit conductive material into a 3D printed object. For their first project, the two companies are working together on developing a 3D printed Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), for which they will 3D print the UAV, including embedded conductive paths that would replace hand-inserted wires, ties and glue. Faster, more efficient and lighter as well.
Transcription of video, with Jeff DeGrange of Stratasys and Mike Renn of Optomec:
Jeff DeGrange: The relationship that Stratasys has with Optomec is a really fun venture of marrying two technologies together to actually bring smart tools and smart parts to life.
Mike Renn: So the Optomec Aerosol Jet process is very enabling. One feature is that it has a very large standoff distance, so we can print on surfaces that are curved and have very complex geometry. And that’s because our print has never actually touched the surface. They literally create a jet of the material and it’s a jet of material that gets jetted down onto the surface. It really opens up there the possibilities of printing a three dimension.
Jeff DeGrange: We can print electronics onto it. You can give it intelligence, and that has not been done today. And that’s what is so exciting about marrying the new technologies together. These are both added to manufacturing technologies. You are only putting material where you need it, so there’s not a lot of waste. So in the aerospace application, it’s really neat as well, from my perspective. What we did there is that right now with the U.S. military — and even commercial applications for unmanned air vehicles or drones — when you start looking at the little helicopters or UAVs that are flying in airspace, they have wings. Now with the two technologies combine, we can actually print onto a wing of an airplane, and the antenna, a power circuit.
Mike Renn: Well, the UAV project is really cool. One of the enabling features of the combine technology is that right now we can make a UAV sort of much lighter, with much more functionality than what’s available now. And so the idea of embedding the sensors and the electrical components into the structure, that removes a lot of the standalone components that would be in the UAV otherwise.
Optomec uses Aerosol Jet Deposition, which is a form of 3D printing where, according to the Optomec site, “the printed electronic systems have the unique ability to produce a wide range of electronic, structural and biological patterns onto almost any substrate. The proprietary process, which is totally different from ink jet, utilizes aerodynamic focusing to precisely deliver fluid and nanomaterial formulations that as required can be optionally post-treated with a highly focused laser or other sintering methods. The resulting patterns can have features that are less than 10 microns wide, with layer thicknesses from 10′s of nanometers to several microns. Wide nozzle print heads are also available which enable efficient patterning of larger size features and surface coating applications.”
Here’s another video about 3D printing the UAV: