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Plastic composites push 3D printing of personal electronics

Posted: 27 Nov 2012 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:3D printing? personal electronics? carbomorph? plastic composite?

Scientists from the University of Warwick are developing new materials that according to the researchers could allow people to print out custom-designed personal electronics such as games controllers that perfectly fit their hand shape. They added that the conductive plastic composite can be used to produce electronic devices using the latest generation of low-cost 3D printers.

The material, nicknamed 'carbomorph', enables users to lay down electronic tracks and sensors as part of a 3D printed structureallowing the printer to create touch-sensitive areas for example, which can then be connected to a simple electronic circuit board.

So far the team has used the material to print objects with embedded flex sensors or with touch-sensitive buttons such as computer game controllers or a mug that can tell how full it is.

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.

The research was led by Simon Leigh in the School of Engineering at the University of Warwick.

He 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."

Dr. Simon Leigh

Simon Leigh: "this technology could revolutionise 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."
Source: University of Warwick.

"In the long term, this technology could revolutionise 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," Leigh added.

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.

3D printed gamepad

A gamepad 3D printed using carbomorph. Source: University of Warwick.





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