Innovation like this makes me excited! Solidsmack reported recently on how Optomec was experimenting with depositing metal on plastic and how damn cool (err, hot!) that was. Well, out in the land of RepRaps where printers of different breeds roam and their 3D Printistas tinker, manufacture and share ideas and objects, 3D printing metal on plastic is becoming a reality and Reprapper Rhys Jones is getting very close.
3D Printed Circuitry
Rhys has been experimenting with printed circuitry. The circuits here have been deposited by a modified extruder using a conductive metal with a low-melting point. It’s not just any circuit, it’s a Sanguino board–like an Arduino, but simpler–capable of performing simple functions, like blinking faster and finding Sarah Connor. After all the main electronic components have been installed, the piece is put back into the 3D printer. I have rarely seen anyone try to restart a print like this–it must have been maddening. The entire piece wasn’t completely covered with plastic as it damages the wires and components. So after adjusting the fill to 15%, and twiddling his thumbs nervously, Reprap’s first integrated 3D printed controller board was complete. Unbelievable.
THIS. CHANGES. EVERYTHING. It really does. We talk about 3D printing incessantly here, but for a good reason. Integrated digital manufacturing at the hobby level is earthshaking. Albeit a partly hand-made process, the facts don’t change. Given a machine that deposits wiring along with the plastics, hobby PCB board making can commence. Looking back to our piece on Bootstrapping a 3D Printed Design is Profitable and how one man with one 3D printer can do well selling one design, adding electronics (not just plastic widgets) is pretty amazing. The wiring job may be crude, but it sits underneath layers of 3D printed plastic. A perfect example would be the easy-to-use Twine wireless module that connects you to the internet–a chunk of plastic with integrated WiFi, sensors and connectors. What if we could just print those devices on demand, customized to your specs, or downloaded and printed on your own machine?
UPDATE: Check out what Stanford has been doing – electrically conductive, 3D printed, electrically conductive Hydrogel. Cool!