Several groups have begun exploring 3D printed electronics, and Autodesk has just joined them with the announcement, at the International Consumer Electronics Show, of Project Wire, a collaboration with Voxel8, of an all-encompassing fabrication system for functional electronic devices.
Project Wire uses a conductive silver ink, extruded by one of the nozzles on a printer produced by Voxel8, and software from Autodesk. The Project Wire software can be used to route wire and place components, something that was previously not available in any 3d printing suites. Together with the printer, it’ll let designers place circuits and standard components into a 3D printed body, enabling single prints to contain both the structure and the electrical elements needed for a complete build. For example, Voxel8 printed this ready-to-fly drone:
A print like this can keep circuits fully enclosed, and allows designers to lay out the circuits in three dimensions. “The shift in 3D printing is toward functional parts,” says Autodesk’s project lead Karl Willis. “To extend functional properties (mechanical, electrical, optical, etc.) you need advanced materials — and more often than not, multiple materials.”
Voxel8 accomplished this via a unique extruder that uses pneumatic pressure to push liquid silver ink — which dries at room temperature — through a small nozzle.
Though announced today, the printer won’t be available until later in 2015. At the manufacturing level, Optomec already offers high-end, high-volume printed electronics used, for example, to lay cell phone antennas down inside injection-molded plastic bodies. And a startup called Voltera is planning to release a desktop circuit board printer this year.