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3D printers are now capable of creating more diverse structures than ever before. We’ve already encountered 3D printed human tissue How 3D Printing Humans Might Be Possible Some Day How 3D Printing Humans Might Be Possible Some Day How does bioprinting work? What can be printed? And will be ever be able to print a full human being? Read More 3D printed food Will 3D Printed Food Remove Humans From The Kitchen? Will 3D Printed Food Remove Humans From The Kitchen? You probably know that 3d printers have been used to create everything from mechanical gears to prosthetic limbs and living human tissue. But did you know that they're also being used to print food? Read More , and even buildings.

Houses, sheds and even castles have been built using 3D printed masonry. 3D printers capable of printing metal are starting to become commonplace as well.

3D Printing

This is explosive growth, definitely — but there are some types of fabrication that have eluded 3D printers so far.  One notable area is the printing of integrated circuits.

Current Technology

Printed electronics are already in existence, but as with many futuristic technologies in their contemporary forms 3D Printing - Sci-Fi Myth Or Reality? 3D Printing - Sci-Fi Myth Or Reality? A mainstay of sci-fi since the genre began, the idea of being able to create your own objects at home is understandably quite fascinating. Who hasn’t dreamed of having their own replicator that makes cookies... Read More , the costs can be eye-watering. They also often require their own printing units.

Previous attempts at 3D printed electronics, such as Carbomorph, utilized the right technology but still did not achieve the necessary levels of conductivity for a PCB, rendering attempt to render complex electronic circuitry useless. However, low energy efforts such as a game-controller proved successful.

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But this a shifting market with brewing demand. More businesses, investors and university research labs are sitting up and taking note of the financial potential of 3D printed electronics. Because of this, major progress is being made.

Functionalize

In 2012, Michael Toutonghi and his son set out to build an electromagnetic rocket for a science fair project, using primarily 3D printing materials What Is 3D Printing And How Exactly Does It Work? What Is 3D Printing And How Exactly Does It Work? Imagine if you could print out three-dimensional objects straight from a printer in your home. When I was a kid in primary school, I thought it would be awesome if I could print pizzas out... Read More .  However, they quickly realized that the electronics needed for their rocket to fully function were currently outside the available 3D printing spectrum.  Feeling that this was unacceptable, they did what any self-respecting engineer would do, and came up with a solution.  The result is F-Electric, a highly conductive material that can be fed into printers designed to take standard PLA plastic feedstock Safety First - Choose The Right Filament For Your 3D Printer Safety First - Choose The Right Filament For Your 3D Printer Read More , which prints electrically conductive circuits.

3d printer ultimaker

Their self-developed, home-designed product can produce filament with a resistance measuring under 1 ohm/cm. The conductivity of other 3D printing filaments currently available scale between 1,000-10,000 ohm/cm. An all in one printer solution, funded through a successful Kickstarter campaign, will set you back at least $1,500 to step on the playing field.

In comparison, Toutonghi has created a conductive filament that currently retails for $70 per half-pound, and can be fed into low-cost traditional 3D printers.  Even the price of the filament should drop quickly as mass production begins. Toutonghi’s Functionalize F-Electric company launched a Kickstarter campaign searching for $100,000 in funding, offering low backers a chance to buy some 3D printed knickknacks, including a 3D printed LED keychain, a 3d printed magnetic lock box, and a 3d printed magnetic levitating desk toy.

Unfortunately the F-Electric Kickstarter campaign fell somewhat short of their $100,000 target, reaching just $30,126 across 227 backers.

However, this hasn’t put Toutonghi and his team off — and, as a result of publicity garnered throughout their campaign F-Electric will still be entering production in the near future – though it’s not clear in exactly what form, as a number of potential partnerships begin to make themselves apparent. In the meantime, Functionalize are still offering their filament for sale through their own site, so all is not lost.

Nanyang Technological University

Functionalize isn’t the only game in town.

NTU Singapore successfully printed a complex electronic circuit using a common t-shirt printer – a process that, while not technically 3D printing, employs many of the same processes and can be combined with traditional 3D printing to produce hybrid outputs.  The circuits can be printed directly onto a range of everyday materials: plastics, aluminium foil and paper have had successful test runs.

Associate Professor Joseph Chang, head of the NTU Singapore Research Group believes that:

“This means we can have smarter products, such as a carton that tells you exactly when the milk expires, a bandage that prompts you when it is time for a redressing and smart patches that can monitor life signals like your heart rate”

The NTU process is different from other existing electronics printing as the circuits are completed without the use of oxidising agents or any toxic chemicals, meaning the finalised product is ‘green,’ scalable and can be completed within minutes of design completion.

With these eco-friendly credentials in mind, the NTU see their innovative electronic printing process as an important step forward in biomedical science and will look to developing a range of digital and analogue printed circuits for medical sensors and processors in the near future.

What Good Are 3D Printed Circuits?

You might be surprised!

The world is full of electronics enthusiasts who like nothing more than designing, exploring, innovating and experimenting across the entire electronics spectrum. But, as any number of those enthusiasts will tell you, etching your own PCB is a difficult, tedious process that tends to lose its charm after that first go-around.

PCB Drilling

The development of 3D printed electronics through easily accessible filament replacements like the F-Electric would significantly lower the barrier to entry for potential users, hopefully encouraging more people to become involved, spurring experimentation around the globe.  3D printed electronics may one day help to allow users to become more self-sufficient in terms of low-cost electronic goods, and may open up a whole new world of crowdsourced technological innovation.

Excited about 3D printers that can fabricate electronics?  What would you create with them?  Let us know in the comments!


Image Credits: 3D Printer via Wikimedia Commons, Elza van Swetlen via FlickrDrilling via Jeanbaptisteparis, Flickr, Featured Image via Wikimedia Commons

  1. 4mcpcb
    August 15, 2016 at 10:16 am

    Thanks, Gerry.
    Do you know 3D printed in China, due to I come from China PCB manufacturer, I want to learn more about this.
    Here is our website:4mcpcb.com

  2. paula
    March 7, 2016 at 1:16 am

    I Want You 3D Printers But I have no idea about the price :( :( ??
    I also want to know sold Fein ?? :( Please. :)

    • Gavin Phillips
      March 7, 2016 at 12:23 pm

      Hi Paula,

      We don't sell 3D Printers, only give information on their continued development. 3D Printers come in a massive array, and can now be used to print a huge variety of materials. Try https://www.3dhubs.com/best-3d-printer-guide for a start, and you might understand more of what you need.

      If you're after the filament mentioned in the article, you'd need to connect with Functionalize, the creators of the F-Electric filament. They can be found here: http://functionalize.com/

      Cheers.

  3. A41202813GMAIL
    January 3, 2015 at 8:03 am

    Until Not Long Ago, Only The Digital World Was Piracy Capable.

    Instead Of Embracing The Future Ahead, hollywood Only Complains That GOOGLE ( Usually The Only Company Targeted - I Wonder Why ) FIBER Will Be A Heaven For Criminals, And Should Be Stopped.

    What Are The Usual Patent Trolls Going To Do With This Likewise Potential Hardware Breakthrough ?

    Cheers.

    • Gavin
      January 4, 2015 at 10:08 am

      Hopefully because the technology is moving so rapidly, and is difficult to discern in a patent i.e. a patent for a moving printer head would already be obsolete, the patent assertion entity plague may be avoided.

  4. Gerry
    January 1, 2015 at 6:05 pm

    The McAlpine group at Princeton can now print LEDs. "Researchers at Princeton University have now taken an important step toward expanding the technology’s potential by developing a way to print functioning electronic circuitry out of semiconductors and other materials. They are also refining ways to combine electronics with biocompatible materials and even living tissue, which could pave the way for exotic new implants."__ MIT Technology Review, 12/1/14
    An article in Nature Nanotechnology suggests that this may be a key to AI because it allows many connections in a 3-D structure like a brain, whereas current 2-D printing techniques make that degree of complexity very costly.

    • Gavin
      January 4, 2015 at 10:06 am

      I didn't realise that. Thanks for the heads up, Gerry.

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