Voxel8 enables designers and engineers to create freeform, 3D-printed circuits in place of conventional circuit boards.
Traditionally, electronic circuit boards are manufactured in standard shapes. However, the team behind 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. Traditionally speaking, most printers are built around FDM technology, which spits out single-material objects. However, as seen earlier this year at CES, Voxel8 will enable users to blend plastic, conductive ink and other embedded components into the same design. In other words, Makers will be able to create fully-functional electronic circuitry right into their gizmos and gadgets, ranging from quadcopters to phones to thumb drives.
And from the looks of things, it will become a reality sooner than you may think. That’s because the startup has raised $12 million to bring these revolutionary devices to the desks of engineers and designers worldwide. Braemar Energy Ventures and ARCH Venture Partners led the Series A round, joined by Autodesk, through its Spark Investment Fund, and In-Q-Tel
“The Voxel8 3D printing platform is disrupting the traditional design and manufacture of electronic devices,” said Clinton Bybee, co-founder and managing director at ARCH Venture Partners. “Not only does the Voxel8 3D printer enable the design of entirely new devices, it also circumvents the need for traditional tooling, inventory and supply chains.”.
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 creative 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 platform is driven by a RAMBo 1.3 (ATmega2560/ATmega32U2). Beyond that, 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. Through its collaboration with Autodesk, Voxel8 paves the way for entirely new form factors with Project Wire, a Spark-powered tool that helps design 3D printable electronic devices. What’s more, its unique software lets the machine know when it’s time to insert a component and will pause to allow the users to manually do so.
Interested in printing your own novel 3D electronic devices? Voxel8 has already received preorders from R&D departments of several large companies throughout the aerospace, automotive, defense, medical and apparel industries. The first batch of units are expected to begin shipping later this year. In the meantime, head on over to Voxel8’s official page to learn more.