The ability to 3D print more than one material at the same time and thereby create complete items with no assembly is a transformational capability. Congratulations to the University of Nottingham team!
A team of researchers based at the University of Nottingham’s Centre for Additive Manufacturing have demonstrated a method for efficiently 3D-printing fully functional circuits containing different materials.
Multifunctional additive manufacturing, however, involves printing multiple materials from a single 3D printer to create more complex components with a range of functions. Printing electronic devices containing different materials (metallic inks to form conductors and polymeric inks to form insulators) requires a range of heat sources such as ovens or hot plates to solidify each material. This renders the process highly inefficient, particularly when hundreds of layers are required to form a component.
The ability to print multiple materials at the same time is a step change in the capability of 3D printing that will propel it faster into mainstream manufacture.
Advances in 3D printing have been slow to replace traditional manufacturing, but NASA is looking toward the technology as a way to fabricate parts for rockets. It’s already experimented with rocket components that were 3D printed from a single metal, but now it’s testing a process for printing in two different alloys. Using an advanced laser printing method, the agency has produced a bi-metallic rocket igniter that really works.
As the name implies, a rocket igniter is used to initiate a rocket engine’s start sequence. It’s a surprisingly complex part that’s difficult to make, so it’s an ideal candidate for 3D printing. However, you can’t make a rocket igniter out of a single metal. In traditional manufacturing, these components are produced using a process called brazing. The two different metal components are melded together using a filler material that locks them into place when the component is heated.