3D printing material could benefit education sector

A new material could enable people to build personalised electronic items in their home using low-cost 3D printers.

Researchers from Warwick University have created a simple and cheap conductive plastic composite that can be used to lay down electronic circuits and sensors as part of 3D printed items.

They have already used the material — nicknamed ‘carbomorph’ because it is formed from carbon particles dissolved in a polymorph plastic — to 3D print a personalised video game controller, a glove with haptic feedback components and a mug with a liquid sensor.

‘We’ve designed it to work with the current trend for low-cost 3D printers: it’s cheap and easy to make — you could even make it yourself,’ project leader Dr Simon Leigh told The Engineer.

‘It’s something people haven’t really done before. Usually it would require modifications to the printer to get it to work or it’s some really expensive material with metal nanoparticles.

‘At the moment we envisage it making an impact in the education sector. Students could design a product, the circuitry to go in it and print the whole lot.’

As well as electrical connections, carbomorph can also be used to create touch-sensitive areas and flex sensors that alter their resistance as they bend.

The next step is to work on printing much more complex structures and electronic components, including the wires and cables required to connect the devices to computers.

3D printing has an advantage in this area in that sockets for connection to equipment such as interface electronics can be printed out instead of connected using conductive glues or paints.

The research is published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE and was funded by the EPSRC.