Waseda University (Japan) scientists have developed a new hybrid 3D printing technique for producing both metal and plastic structures simultaneously.
This could help widen the gambit for 3D electronics in future robotics and IoT applications.
3D printers either use plastic or metal – and not both at the same time. This is because the melting points of plastics and metals are very different.
Therefore, coating 3D plastic structures with metal is not only hazardous, it also yields poor results.
Now a Waseda team led by professor Shinjiro Umezu has revealed a new process for producing 3D objects made from both metal and plastic concurrently.
In conventional approaches, the plastic object is 3D printed and then submerged in a solution containing palladium (Pd), which adheres to the object’s surface.
Afterwards, the piece is submerged in an electroless plating bath that, using the deposited Pd as a catalyst, causes dissolved metal ions to stick to the object.
While technically sound, the conventional approach produces a metallic coating that is non-uniform and adheres poorly to the plastic structure.
In the new hybrid method, the scientists have utilized a dual nozzle printer where one extrudes standard melted plastic (ABS), and the other, ABS loaded with PdCl2.
By selectively printing layers using one nozzle or the other, specific areas of the 3D object can be loaded with Pd. Then, through electroless plating, one can finally obtain a plastic structure with a metallic coating over selected areas only.
Moreover, as the Pd is loaded in the raw material, the Waseda technique does not require any type of roughening or etching of the ABS structure with toxic chemicals like chromic acid to promote the deposition of the catalyst.
According to the scientists, this approach is fully compatible with existing fused filament fabrication 3D printers, and it could thus help save both time and money.
Image and content: Waseda University