A team of materials scientists at Harvard University, led by Professor Jennifer Lewis, have built groundbreaking, 3D printed lithium-ion microbatteries smaller than a grain of sand, and while the battery materials aren't revolutionary, Lewis says her group holds eight patents and have licensed and commercialized a technology resulting in a stunningly effective electronics 3D printer.
Lewis is the Hansjörg Wyss Professor of Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and a Core Faculty Member of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard, and her new company, Voxel8, recently secured funding from Braemar Energy Ventures. Voxel8 is launching the electronics 3D printer this week at CES 2015 and it's a game-changing machine.
The Voxel8 Developer's Kit is available for pre-order now at the company's website, and at $8,999, the kit includes the new printer, four PLA filament spools, ten conductive ink cartridges and an additional print bed.
"Voxel8 is leveraging over a decade of research which has led to 17 patents on functional materials, printheads, and other processes for 3D printing," says Lewis. "Our work provides the foundation for Voxel8's effort to revolutionize multi-material 3D printing. To realize our vision, we've recruited a multi-disciplinary team with expertise in advanced materials, precision hardware, intelligent software and design."
The printer works like this: when a circuit is placed into an object, a second nozzle comes into play which is filled with the highly conductive silver ink. It's five-thousand times more conductive than the conductive pastes and filaments currently on the market, and then, as the circuit printing is complete, the printer outputs thermoplastics through another nozzle to finish the object.
If a chip or additional electronic component – like a sensor or LED – is needed, the printer stops printing, allowing a user to remove the build tray. The component can be located within the object, the build tray can be replaced and the print job resumes.
The Voxel8 is made to let users design and fabricate devices which include 3D printed electromagnetic coils, antennas and a wide variety of other control mechanisms.
The Voxel8 features a build envelope of 10 x 15 x 10 cm, uses the FFF, Pneumatic Direct Write process, prints at layer resolutions of 200 microns, works with 1.75mm filaments, can print conductive traces 250 microns wide and supports the AMF, STL, PLY, OBJ and OFF file formats.
Resistivity of printed channels checks in at 5.00 × 10-7 Ω-m with a proprietary silver ink which cures in just five minutes.
And if that's not enough, Voxel8 say they've partnered with Autodesk to create a new Spark-powered design tool they call Project Wire. It will let designers easily develop electronics by guiding the placement of free-form wiring and components and then slicing multiple materials to locate thermoplastics and inks.
"We're excited to work with companies like Voxel8, because they are really pushing the boundaries of what 3D printing is capable of, and by incorporating conductive inks directly into the 3D printing process, we can start to create things that have function after they are printed," says Jeff Kowalski, the CTO of Autodesk.