This 3D printer is blending plastics and electronics in the same printed object.
Traditionally, electronic circuit boards are manufactured in standard shapes. However, Voxel8 has unveiled a new 3D printing platform that brings together functional materials, hardware and software to give designers a once inconceivable way to integrate electronics into their projects.
While previous electronics printing efforts have involved either retrofitting existing machines or spitting out PCBs using inkjet printers, the Massachusetts-based company believes it has developed the world’s first 3D electronics printer. As seen at CES 2015, the Voxel8 is enabling users to blend plastic, conductive ink and electronic components all into the same object. Makers can now create built-in electronic circuitry right into their DIY designs, ranging from quadcopter drones to phones to USB sticks.
The innovative printer, which was founded by Dr. Jennifer A. Lewis in partnership with Autodesk, boasts interchangeable cartridges that can print out objects in both PLA plastic and conductive silver ink. The team reveals that this ink is five thousand times more conductive than other pastes and filaments currently used in 3D printing, and indeed, carries higher currents capable of supplying power to small electric motors and actuators.
The ink is specifically designed so that it can be deposited by a 250 micron nozzle, dried in just five minutes at room temperature and used to reliably interconnect TQFP integrated circuits. In fact, it will enable users to easily wire together chips and other electronic components within their 3D-printed objects, making way for a degree of design freedom that is simply not possible through standard manufacturing methods.
Embodying a C-shaped design, Voxel8 offers users optimal transparency into the device as their parts are being constructed. On the hardware side, the gadget is driven by a RAMBo 1.3 (ATmega2560/ATmega32U2). In addition, it is equipped with a 4.3-inch touchscreen, USB and Wi-Fi connectivity, as well as a highly-repeatable kinematically coupled bed that uses magnets to ensure precision as a Maker manually inserts the components of interest, then continues printing the part right where it left off.
The printer has a layer resolution of 200 microns, and can even create objects up to 4” x 6″ x 4” in size. Thanks to Autodesk’s Project Wire software, the printing process can also be paused to let users manually insert components that will be embedded in the project.
Since its debut back in January, the company has generated quite a bit of buzz in the news. Most recently, Voxel8 announced that it had closed a strategic investment and technology development agreement with In-Q-Tel (IQT), the investment firm that identifies innovative technology solutions to support the missions of the U.S. CIA.
Interested in printing your own novel 3D electronic devices? The machines are expected to begin shipping late 2015. In the meantime, head on over to Voxel8’s official page to learn more.