3D Printing’s Big Idea: Printable Circuits Enable Smart Objects

By Jordan Wosnick

The popular conversation around 3D printing swirls around existing parts and doo-dads that you can make on an as-needed basis. Xerox research is taking the conversation a step further. Our researchers seek to exploit the convergence of advanced 3D printing with simple, low-cost printed electronics. It’s a marriage made in heaven for digital manufacturing, and it will make new-to-the-world technologies possible.

“3D printing with simple, low-cost printed electronics [is] a marriage made in heaven for digital manufacturing…” — Jordan Wosnick, senior scientist at the Xerox Research Centre of Canada
The capabilities to invent this piece of our future exists at the Xerox Research Centre Canada (XRCC).

The XRCC has developed materials for Xerox’s core printer technology business for more than 40 years. Resins for toner, active photoreceptor components, fuser-roll coatings, and solid ink for the Xerox Phaser and CiPress printer lines top the list.

This experience gives Xerox a strong foundation for innovations in 3D printing, since many of the fundamental properties of conventional printing materials – the viscous flow of molten plastic, solidification of curable materials, and cohesion of polymer particles – translate directly to the world of “additive manufacturing.” Our research is now focused on using this know-how to address the new 3D opportunities.

Flexible, Electrically Conductive Plastic Filaments for 3D Circuits

For example, we are working with colleagues at PARC, A Xerox Company, to develop materials and processes that enable 3D printing of functional “smart objects” that can sense and interact with their environment. Our team is developing flexible, electrically conductive plastic filaments that can be used to fabricate three-dimensional circuitry inside a 3D-printed object as it is being built. These circuits can be used to embed fully customized sensors, actuators, coils, or other electronically active components, into printed objects.

Similarly, we are exploring ways to address the limitations of commodity 3D printing plastics. We are designing innovative materials in which properties — such as viscosity, temperature resistance, and adhesion — are optimized for the 3D-printing process. These new feedstocks have the potential to increase the speed and reliability of 3D printing through careful control of physical and chemical properties. Here’s a look at some of our research in printed electronics at the Xerox Research Centre of Canada:

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With these innovations, we believe that 3D printing will move from the hobby shops and design studios, and reside on the factory floors where it will be more accurately known as additive manufacturing.

Now, imagine the new and unheard-of product your company could make with this capability.

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  1. […] Printed Circuits from 3D Printers Will Enable Smart Objects | Simplify Work. […]

  2. Erik van der Zalm March 10, 2015 - Reply

    I just saw this very interesting story about printed electronics.

    As an electronics engineer I see many new possibilities if we combine 3d printing with electronics.
    By integrating electronic components in 3d prints it is possible to make very compact electronic products without an origami from flex pcbs.

    One of the roadblocks are good 3d printable conducting traces.

    Can the xerox products be used by other 3d printer companies?
    Can you give more information about the products?

    • Gregory Pings March 12, 2015 - Reply

      Thank you for your interest , Erik. I’ve alerted Jordan about your inquiry, and he will contact you via the email address that you provided.



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