Scientists develop materials to print out personal electronics in 3D

22 Nov 2012

Imagine a day when you might be able to print out your own personalised electronics such as games controllers in 3D? Well scientists in the UK are developing new materials that could soon allow people do just that.

The researchers, who hail from the University of Warwick in the UK, have just published a paper in the journal PLOS ONE, in which they detail how they have come up with a low-cost conductive plastic composite that can be used to produce electronic devices using 3D printers such as the RepRap and Fab@Home.

Potential 3D creations, they claim, could include custom-designed game controllers that would fit perfectly into your hand.

The material itself has been given the nickname ‘carbomorph’ by the scientists. Apparently, this material will allow users to lay down electronic tracks and sensors as part of a 3D printed structure. This will then allow the printer to create touch-sensitive areas that can be then connected to a simple electronic circuit board, claim the researchers.

Up to now, the team has used the material to print objects in 3D that have embedded flex sensors or with touch-sensitive buttons such as games controllers.

The next goal for the team is to print out more complex structures and electronic components, such as the wires and cables to connect devices to computers.

Dr Simon Leigh from the university’s School of Engineering, led 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,” he said.

According to Leigh the technology has the potential to revolutionise the way electronics are produced, making them more individualised.

“Designers could also use it to understand better how people tactilely interact with products by monitoring sensors embedded into objects.”

However, he said that, in the short term, the technology could help the next generation of engineers get experience of designing high-tech devices and products in the classroom.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic