Researchers at MIT and elsewhere have created a 3D printing process that produces objects with the electronics already embedded inside. The process uses customized fused deposition modeling (FDM) printers, but instead of melting the entire filament, only the outer polymer cladding is liquefied, leaving an internal electronics structure unaffected.
While you may have head chatter about conductive filaments in the past, the electronics here are much more involved. The inner filament core can be a simple metal wire for conduction when needed, but semiconductors can also integrated. As a demonstration, researchers printed a wing for a model airplane with both light emitting and detecting elements. Although the wing here is a small-scale experiment, consider how this type of technology could perhaps be implemented to check for defects, or gather other information that wouldn’t otherwise be easily accessible.
Another potential application for such technology would be to customize prints for use with humans. Whether as augmentation, an implant where interactions could more easily be monitored, or as part of a prosthetic device, each human’s needs can be different, and such electrical flexibility could be vital. It may still be years before you can print a robot without doing any wiring, yet the future 3D printing with embedded electronics could be very exciting!
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Author: Jeremy S. Cook