Friday, 14 December 2012

3D printers could spit out working game controllers

Researchers at the University of Warwick and GKN Aerospace have developed a material that, when used in a 3D printer (3DP), makes it possible for the printed objects to include working sensors.

Detailed in a paper titled A Simple, Low-Cost Conductive Composite Material for 3D Printing of Electronic Sensors (PDF), the researchers explain that objects printed by 3D printers are a grand way to make sure CAD work is progressing well, but also disappointingly inanimate and unready for integration with other components.

That makes 3DP printers useful for basic prototyping, but the researchers say they aspire to “meet the demands of entrepreneurs, designers and artists wishing to create ever more complex and high-tech products using 3DP technology”. Those types, the paper say, want to “move towards the incorporation of functional elements such as electronic sensors into 3D printed macroscale structures.”

The team says they’ve made that possible by developing a new material, which they dub ‘carbomorph’, that can do just that.

Carbomorph is based on Carbon Black filler, a product the paper says is an “amorphous form of carbon, produced from the incomplete combustion of heavy petroleum products” and which is “readily available and inexpensive”. Carbon Black is also conductive.

The team also got its hands on a “readily available modeling plastic” called “polymorph” and combined it with Carbon Black until they had a substance that was able to be 3D printed and still conducted electricity.

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