Electrically conductive ABS-based carbomorph filaments have started to make an appearance on the market. This development in 3D printing can allow makers to quickly produce custom circuit boards, electronic devices and game controllers that can, for example, perfectly fit a specific hand shape. Although this type of 3D printing method requires slightly more skill due to the requirement to use dual extrusion methods to produce integrated devices, these technologies are now within reach.
The first generation of electrically conductive materials used finicky polycaprolactone polymer mixed with conductive carbon black powder. The introduction of conductive ABS-based carbomorph materials that are easier to work could kickstart a revolution in home-built consumer electronics fabrication.
At Swansea Universities Welsh Centre for Printing and Coating these materials are being investigated to produce simple yet important integrated machines. The team has determined that by printing different features, carbomorph can be used to detect:
- changes in temperature
- when water is placed onto it
- applied pressure
- whether a device is being flexed
When these actions happen, a difference in electrical resistance is detected. What this means is that devices can now be 3D Printed with integrated functionality that has never before been possible.
What the team have also discovered is that conventional ABS and carbomorph filaments can be mixed together in different concentrations to form conductive tracks with different levels of resistance. This offers opportunities of 3D printing banks of different resistors into an integrated system. If dielectrics can next be combined, then fully integrated 3D Printed circuit boards can be produced. The next step is to work on printing more complex electronic components including the wires and cables required to connect the devices to computers, not to mention ports for IC's.
This advance in low-cost 3D printed electronics, offers a possibility to produce sensors and electronics embedded inside 3D printed objects in a single build. This is a process that does not require complex or expensive materials incorporating additives. The question now is whether a new generation of complex integrated machines and devices will be produced first not in hi-tech R&D labs of global electronics companies but at home instead?
CAD rendering and fabrication of a composite electrical device with integrated conductive and insulated parts.
Photo reference: http://www.3dgeni.us/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/Carbomorph.jpg