University of Warwick Engineers Pave the Way Towards 3D Printing of Personal Electronics

by University of Warwick, Coventry, U.K.

Scientists are developing new materials which could one day allow people to print out custom-designed personal electronics such as games controllers which perfectly fit their hand shape.

The University of Warwick researchers have created a simple and inexpensive conductive plastic composite that can be used to produce electronic devices using the latest generation of low-cost 3D printers designed for use by hobbyists and even in the home.

3D Printed game controller Photography Courtesy of University of Warwick

3D Printed game controller   (Photograph Courtesy of University of Warwick)

The material, nicknamed ‘carbomorph’, enables users to lay down electronic tracks and sensors as part of a 3D printed structure – allowing the printer to create touch-sensitive areas for example, which can then be connected to a simple electronic circuit board.

Dr. Simon Leigh with 3D Printed Game Controller Photograph Courtesy of University of Warwick

Dr. Simon Leigh with 3D Printed Game Controller     (Photograph Courtesy of University of Warwick)

So far the team has used the material to print objects with embedded flex sensors or with touch-sensitive buttons such as computer game controllers or a mug which can tell how full it is.

The next step is to work on printing much more complex structures and electronic components including the wires and cables required to connect the devices to computers.

The research was led by Dr Simon Leigh in the School of Engineering at the University of Warwick.

Dr Leigh said: “It’s always great seeing the complex and intricate models of devices such as mobile phones or television remote controls that can be produced with 3D printing, but that’s it, they are invariably models that don’t really function.

“We set about trying to find a way in which we could actually print out a functioning electronic device from a 3D printer.

“In the long term, this technology could revolutionalise the way we produce the world around us, making products such as personal electronics a lot more individualised and unique and in the process reducing electronic waste.

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

“However, in the short term I can see this technology having a major impact in the educational sector for example, allowing the next generation of young engineers to get hands-on experience of using advanced manufacturing technology to design fairly high-tech devices and products right there in the classroom.”

The printed sensors can be monitored using existing open-source electronics and freely available programming libraries.

A major advantage of using 3D printing is that sockets for connection to equipment such as interface electronics can be printed out instead of connected using conductive glues or paints.

This research is detailed in the study, A simple, low-cost conductive composite material for 3D printing of electronic sensors, published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE.

The research was funded by the EPSRC project: Novel 3D Printing Technologies for Maximising Industrial Impact (Subproject # 30821) and by the EPSRC UK Research Centre In Nondestructive Evaluation.

Warwick’s School of Engineering is one of the leading unified engineering schools in the UK. Warwick’s approach to engineering education brings together the key branches of engineering and draws upon research strengths in core engineering disciplines.

Warwick offers a range of exciting engineering courses that will open up a world of opportunities to you. Warwick’s international reputation for excellence in teaching and research means that your Warwick degree will be known and respected throughout the world. Warwick’s courses are accredited by the key engineering institutions in the UK including the IET, InstMC, IMechE, IStructE and ICE.

Our sincere appreciation to Anna Blackaby and Dr. Simon Leigh and the University of Warwick for permission to publish this article and learn about technical advances at University of Warwick.

Dr. Simon Leigh

University of Warwick
School of Engineering
+44 (0)24 761 51357
[email protected]

Anna Blackaby
University of Warwick
Press Officer
Coventry
CV4 7AL
United Kingdom
+44(0)2476 575910
+44 (0)7785 433155
[email protected]

 

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