New 3D printer unlocks many possibilities

Installation of a highly advanced 3D printer for electronics at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has recently opened the door for creating miniature circuits on surfaces and substances that could never be used before. The Optomec Aerosol Jet 500 system is capable of printing circuits with a broad range of nanomaterials, allowing engineers to manufacture conductors, semiconductors and microcircuits with an intricacy and flexibility not possible with the Lab’s previous technology.

To be able to print electronic components in 3D is a fundamental game changer,” said Chris Bishop, electronics managing supervisor in LLNL’s Materials Engineering Division (MED). “The hard part is figuring out what to focus on first.”

The Optomec machine can print at 10 microns and also is not limited to copper or metallic inks. It’s capable of utilizing a number of conductive and non-metallic materials, even proteins, and printing on surfaces such as glass, plastic or kapton, a thin heat-resistant polymer. It also can print at any angle in three dimensions, meaning engineers can experiment with 3D-printed antennas, flexible circuits, components for robots and pressure and medical sensors. MED engineers are experimenting with the machine using silver nanoparticles and will be moving toward other conductive inks in the future.