High-conductive thermoplastic mat’l advances 3D printing

Article By : A*STAR

A*STAR IMRE scientists have come up with what they describe as a novel type of thermoplastic thread that can be used in 3D printers to develop functional circuits for use in electrical gadgets.

A team of scientists at A*STAR's Institute of Materials Research and Engineering (IMRE) has come up with what they describe as a novel type of thermoplastic thread that can be used in 3D printers to develop functional circuits for use in electrical gadgets.

"I believe this will revolutionise desktop manufacturing for electronic gadgets," said Johnson Goh, IMRE scientist and head of the Science and Engineering Research Council's (SERC) nanofabrication and characterisation group and principal investigator of this project.

Goh and his team have successfully used this material to print prototypes such as a USB connector that can light up a LED bulb, complex 3D circuits and a wearable flexible sensor.

[Comparison of electrical resistivity]
__Figure 1:__ *Comparison of electrical resistivity between a commercially-available filament and IMRE’s filament*

The resistivity of IMRE's thermoplastic material is in the range of 0.5Ωcm to 1Ωcm, about 1,000 times more conductive than most commercially available plastic filaments for 3D printing. The filament is strong enough to stay intact throughout the 3D printing process in a conventional thermoplastic 3D printer.

"Objects in various colours, shapes and textures complete with functional circuits including wires, resistors and capacitors, could one day be printed in the comfort of one's home," said Kwok Sen Wai, one of the key scientists in the team.

[Application]
__Figure 2:__ *Application: Creating a complex 3D circuit and lighting up an LED bulb*

The team has found that using IMRE material to 3D print circuits rather than creating circuits through the conventional etching-and-soldering method is much safer, faster and cheaper. In addition, such circuits have highly uniform conductivity, with less than a 5% variation, compared to more than a 100% in commercially available conductive filaments.

"We believe that our material will encourage more innovation and entrepreneurship as it will empower people to make prototypes more easily and cheaply," added Kwok.

IMRE is actively looking for industry partners to commercialise the technology.

The technology is available for licensing through A*STAR's commercialisation arm, Exploit Technologies Pte Ltd (ETPL).

[Conventional Steps]
__Figure 3:__ *Conventional steps involved in creating DIY circuits (Source: http://www.robotroom.com/PCB.html)*

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