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“Carbomorph” material to enable 3D printing of custom personal electronics


November 29, 2012

A game 3D-printed game controller with touch-sensitive buttons (Photo: University of Warwick)

A game 3D-printed game controller with touch-sensitive buttons (Photo: University of Warwick)

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Researchers at the University of Warwick have created a cheap plastic composite that can be used even with low-end 3D printers, to produce custom-made electronic devices. The material, nicknamed "carbomorph," is both conductive and piezoresistive, meaning that both electronic tracks and touch-sensitive areas can now be easily embedded in 3D-printed objects without the need for complex procedures or expensive materials.

Carbomorph was made by adding carbon black – a conductive filler produced by the combustion of tar and vegetable oil – to a matrix of polycaprolactone (PCL), which is a biodegradable polyester with a low melting point of 60°C (140°F).

The result is a highly versatile composite that can be adapted to quickly prototype objects with embedded flex sensors or even capacitive, touch-sensitive buttons, such as computer game controllers or mugs that can tell how full they are.

Interfacing with the printed devices is also quite simple – the sensors can be monitored using existing open-source electronics and freely available programming libraries. In the near future, users will also be able to directly print up the wires and cables to interconnect those devices.

The carbomorph material can be used to build 3D-printed piezoresistive flex sensors (Image: University of Warwick)

This technology could have a big impact in the educational sector, allowing engineering students to get hands-on experience and quickly design and test simple electronic devices right in the classroom. In the long run, the researchers hope, it could also open new markets for highly individualized, more ergonomic personal electronics.

The team is now working on using the same methodology to print much more complex electronic components – including the blueprints for the wires and cables.

An open-access paper detailing this advance was published in the journal PLOS ONE.

Source: University of Warwick

About the Author
Dario Borghino Dario studied software engineering at the Polytechnic University of Turin. When he isn't writing for Gizmag he is usually traveling the world on a whim, working on an AI-guided automated trading system, or chasing his dream to become the next European thumbwrestling champion. All articles by Dario Borghino
1 Comment

It's unclear whether this material is being used in filament form...which means it most likely is not.

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