New materials are currently under research that could one day enable people to 3D print custom-designed personal electronics, such as a hand fitting game controller, at home.

At the University of Warwick researchers have developed a simple and inexpensive conductive plastic composite that is suitable for producing electronic devices with the latest generation of low cost 3D printers.

carbomorph

The plastic material — nicknamed ‘carbomorph’  — allows makers to create electronic tracks and sensors within the 3D printed object. This allows the 3D printer to create touch sensitive areas that can then easily be connected to a simple electronic circuit board. The team has successfully used carbomorph to print a game controller with touch sensitive buttons and the next step is to take carbomorph to more complex structures and electronic components such as the wires and cables required to connect the devices to computers.

According to Dr Simon Leigh, who has been leading the research, “We set about trying to find a way in which we could actually print out a functioning electronic device from a 3D printer. In the long term, this technology could revolutionalise 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. However, in the short term I can see this technology having a major impact in the educational sector for example, allowing the next generation of young engineers to get hands-on experience of using advanced manufacturing technology to design fairly high-tech devices and products right there in the classroom.” Dr Leigh continued.

carbomorph

A great advantage of 3D printing for this purpose is that using sockets to connect equipment such as interface electronics can be 3D printed instead of connected using conductive glues or paints.

This research is detailed in the study, A simple, low-cost conductive composite material for 3D printing of electronic sensors, published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE. The research was funded by the EPSRC project: Novel 3D Printing Technologies for Maximising Industrial Impact (Subproject # 30821) and by the EPSRC UK Research Centre In Nondestructive Evaluation.

Source: University of Warwick

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