3D Printing of structural components in polymers, metals and ceramics is becoming well established industry driven by the unique freedom of design benefits that are unattainable with other traditional manufacturing techniques.
By Martin Hedges, Neotech
Rapidly maturing processing technologies are also allowing 3D Printing to increasingly compete on an economic basis and the first low volume manufacturing applications are emerging. Adding electronics functionality to 3D Printed parts to produce complete mechatronic systems is the next logical step in this evolution. This is part 2, read part 1 of this article here.
Neotech has integrated FDM capability into its 5-axis electronics printer and developed software that enables a structural part to be built in any given direction. The combined structural-electronics printer is able to build parts using 3+2, 4- and even 5-axis simultaneous motion strategies.
For example, the demonstration part in Figure 4 is built using a combination of print strategies. The main body is built using X-Y motion for each layer with Z moving to the next layer – classical 2.5D build. The two bosses are then added by rotating the part around the B rotational axis (3+2 motion).
Finally, the outer surface over the curved dome of the part is printed using 4 axis simultaneous motion (coordinated X, Y, Z and A axis motion).
This high degree of freedom allows novel geometries to be built without support structures and with improved mechanical properties. Furthermore the FDM head can then be used to embed any electronics that are on the outer surfaces of the part.
Neotech AMT GmbH is one of the leading companies developing systems for 3D Printed Electronics (3D PE). The company began developing this novel technology in 2006 and installed the first 5-axis 3D PE system in 2010. This system combines hard- and software elements into a unique solution capable of production complex circuitry on almost any 3D surface.
This convergence of 3D Printing and 3D PE is set to accelerate with major initiatives for fully additive production of mechatronic systems starting in 2017.
These include the €11m EU funded Penta Project ‘Hyb-Man’ that will develop hybrid 3D manufacturing methods for flexible, right first time production of 3D mechatronic systems.
Project partners form the Netherlands and Germany will focus on further combination of 3D Printing methods and 3D PE with inspection and control systems being investigated to drive the industrial implementation of this novel technology.
End applications for Hyb-Man include smart LED luminares and automotive sensor systems with the core technology being applicable to many industrial segments.