The joint venture (formed between American printer giant Xerox and Japanese photographic firm Fuji Photo Film) sees printed electronics as its future and is set on exploring all the possibilities it may offer, starting from the idea of 3D printing electronic devices as a single unit.
Printing embedded chips combines two of the hottest new technologies. The first, if you regularly read 3DPI, you will likely be quite familiar with even under it’s other name of additive manufacturing. The other has to do with printed electronics, which is the ability — first developed by Xerox — to create and print circuits using inks that act as conductors, resistors and semiconductors.
Xerox’s studies have shown that the best material to use for electronic ink is silver: it is a better conductor than copper and if it can be made into nanometric particles (a nanometer is a billionth of a meter), it melts at less than 140°C. That means it can be printed by a normal inkjet 2D printer with the potential to adapt it for a 3D printer.
This process will one day allow us to create electronic devices as single units through 3D printing. Each unit will include antennae, screen circuits, connectors and touch screen parts but the biggest challenge will be to 3D print its “brains”: the electronic chips that contain millions of transistors in a square millimeter. Nowdays these processors are mass-produced through extremely expensive machines, using silicone. As difficult as it may be, Xerox now thinks that 3D printing embedded chips is a lucrative business and is set on developing it further.
“3D printing is going to change our world”, said Stephen Ball, Fuji Xerox’s marketing manager, during the last annual Innovate event. “Printed chips could be inserted into different media and have a tremendous commercial potential that we need to explore further. Innovation – concluded Ball – is part of Fuji Xerox. It is who we are and what we’ve always been.”
Even allowing that they are not the first to announce developments in this area —there was the introduction of the EX1 and the news circulating about Camtek in recent weeks — you wouldn’t bet against the might behind Fuji Xerox developments.