A research group from University of Nottingham has developed a novel method to 3D print functional electronic circuits.
University of Nottingham researchers have developed what may be an innovative new method to 3D print functional electronic circuits.
Although the circuits contain electrically-conductive metallic inks and insulating polymeric inks, they can now be made via a single printing process using UV light to solidify the inks rapidly.
The technique has the potential to be applied in the electronics manufacturing industry in order to produce components such as 3D antennae and sensors.
According to the researchers, the new method is a combination of 2D printed electronics with Additive Manufacturing or 3D printing. By depositing the materials layer-by-layer, the impact of Multifunctional Additive Manufacturing is enhanced to create more complex components for a wider range of applications.
The groundbreaking method speeds up the solidification process of the conductive inks to less than a minute per layer. Previously, this process had to be completed using conventional heat sources such as ovens and hot plates, which took much longer.
According to Professor Chris Tuck, Professor of Materials Engineering and lead investigator of the study:
“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. You don’t have to select standard values for capacitors when you design a circuit, you just set the value and the printer will produce the component for you.”
The method also overcomes some of the shortcomings in manufacturing devices which contain plastics or metal parts as these usually require solidifying each material. Many existing systems therefore tend to use just one type of material limiting their functionality.
By incorporating multiple materials such as a conductor and insulator, a range of applications can be added.
Research by Dr Ehab Saleh demonstrated that silver nanoparticles in conductive inks could effectively absorb UV light. This absorbed UV energy could then be converted to heat, which evaporates the conductive ink solvents and fuses the silver nanoparticles.
The process only impacts the conductive ink, ensuring no damage to 3D printed polymers. The researchers also used the same compact, low cost LED-based UV light to convert polymeric inks into solids in the same printing process to form multi-material 3D structures.
“’Printing fully functional devices that contain multiple materials in complex, 3D structures is now a reality. 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,” Professor Richard Hague, Director of the Centre for Additive Manufacturing adds.
The latest breakthrough has the potential to be applied in a wide range of industries and could be the starting point for further research into this area.
Source: University of Nottingham