Harvard researchers unveil 3D electronics printer

The printer has dual print heads, one for plastics, the other for a conductive metal

The Voxel8 3D printer

Harvard researchers have announced a 3D printer capable of printing both thermoplastics and highly conductive silver inks that allow electronic products to be created on one process.

The printer will be sold by Voxel8, a company co-founded by Jennifer Lewis, a professor at Harvard's Wyss School of Biologically Inspired Engineering.

Voxel8 3D printer Voxel8

The Voxel8 3D printer extruding its conductive metal to form circuits. The metal prints and dries at room temperature.

Voxel8's core engineering team consists of mechanical, software and materials engineers from Harvard and MIT and its core business team includes alumni of the Harvard Business School.

The company also partnered with Autodesk for use of its CAD software to create electronic designs that can then be uploaded to the 3D printer.

Voxel8 3D print software Voxel8

The CAD software from Autodesk enables 3D print designs to be manipulated prior to being uploaded to the Voxel8 3D printer.

Voxel8 is not the first company to enable 3D printed circuit boards. Last year, a group of Stanford University graduate students created an 3D printer attachment that lays down functioning circuitry right alongside the thermoplastic extruder head of an existing machine, enabling it to make functioning electronic prototypes.

Stanford's 3D printer head -- called the Rabbit Proto -- is designed to fit onto several different versions of RepRap printers.

The Voxel8 3D printer extrudes conductive ink that prints and dries at room temperature.

Voxel8 3D printer Voxel8

The Voxel8 3D printer extruding its conductive metal to form circuits. The metal prints and dries at room temperature.

After printing a thermoplastic part into which the metal circuits can be laid out, the machine also allows users to pause the machine in order to install a computer processor, which can then be integrated into the large circuit board once printing resumes.

The Voxel8 Developer's Kit can be pre-ordered Jan. 6. The 3D printer is expected to ship late this year. It will retail for $9,000.

The desktop 3D electronics printer features dual material print heads -- one for Fused Filament Fabrication with thermoplastics and a second for the conductive ink. The Developer's Kit will include the desktop 3D electronics printer, conductive ink cartridges, PLA thermoplastic filament, modeling software and software support.

Voxel8 3D printer Voxel

The Voxel8 3D printer can pause the extrusion process to allow a chip to be placed in the thermoplastic base. Printing can then resume and connect the chip to the rest of the circuitry.

Ultimately, Voxel8 will bring to market a broader set of functional materials and advanced printing platforms that will allow mass customization of working parts.

Voxel8 has already gotten a round of funding from two venture capital partners, and it won the MassChallenge, a state-wide technology competition that offers $50,000 prize money for further development.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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