Rutgers University engineers have successfully embedded high-performance electrical circuits inside 3D printed plastics.
They contend that their new technique could pave way for more versatile drones, better-performing small satellites, and smarter structures.
The Rutgers team used pulses of high-energy light to fuse tiny silver wires, resulting in circuits that are capable of conducting 10 times more electricity than the state of the art.
By increasing conductivity to 10-fold, the engineers were able to reduce energy use, extending the life of devices and optimizing their performance.
“Our innovation shows considerable promise for developing an integrated unit – using 3D printing and intense pulses of light to fuse silver nanoparticles – for electronics,” says senior author and assistant professor Rajiv Malhotra.
According to Malhotra, embedding electrical interconnections inside 3D printed structures made of polymers or plastics, can create new paradigms for devices that are smaller and more energy-efficient.
Such devices could include CubeSats (small satellites), drones, transmitters, light and motion sensors and Global Positioning Systems.
Interconnections like these are often used in antennas, pressure sensors, electrical coils and electrical grids for electromagnetic shielding.
The Rutgers team made use of high-tech ‘intense pulsed light sintering’ featuring high-energy light from a xenon lamp to fuse long thin rods of silver called nanowires.
Fused silver nanomaterials are already used to conduct electricity in devices such as solar cells, displays and RFID tags.
Malhotra and his team are now planning on making fully 3D internal circuits, enhancing their conductivity and creating flexible internal circuits inside flexible 3D structures.
Image and content: Md Naim Jahangir/Rutgers University-New Brunswick