3D printed electronics helping MA engineering firm Draper embrace IoT market

3ders.org | 9/13/2017 | Staff
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Draper, an engineering firm based in Cambridge, MA, is 3D printing with a conductive metal-based multi-material ink. The company has used the process to embed electronic devices into industrial components.

3D printing has long been used as a prototyping tool for mechanical and industrial components. With the ability to rapid prototype on a 3D printer, companies can quickly reel off several iterations of a design, put each one through its paces, and finally determine which iteration should be turned into the real thing.

Components - Things - Printing - Plastic - Metal

With electronic components, however, things are a little different. Typically, 3D printing is best employed for plastic or metal components, limited in size, that can have complex geometries but which often do not have especially complex functions. However, with the advent of 3D printed electronics—a field pioneered by companies like Nano Dimension and Voxel8—engineers are now in a position to reel off fully functional 3D printed electronic devices at unprecedented speed.

Massachusetts-based engineering company Draper is the latest company to embrace printed electronics, with the aim of speeding up its prototyping processes and improving its end products.

Product - Designers - Time - Concept-to-prototype-to-test - Part

“Product designers are eager to shorten the time it takes to go from concept-to-prototype-to-test in large part because their customers are asking for it,” said Draper’s Brian Smith. “If your market is looking for products in more variety, with varying capabilities and in different form factors, your product designers are on the hook to rapidly churn out prototypes. That’s not easy with the current approach to electronics manufacturing.”

The company’s solution was to equip a 3D printer with conductive metal-based multi-material inks that serve as a form of “sprayable electronics” for PCBs and other devices. Although this endeavor presented a few difficulties, the undertaking could have big benefits for the Cambridge-based firm.

Electronics - Systems - Challenge - Material

“Given that electronics are fundamentally multi-material systems, the challenge lies not just in material...
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