3D-Printed Electronics Are the Future
Jul09

3D-Printed Electronics Are the Future

Imagine printing a solar cell in a matter of minutes. Some business owners may think it sounds like something out of a science fiction story, but 3D printing is developing with ever-expanding capabilities including the possibility for 3D-printed electronics. The technology isn’t perfect yet, but researchers are hard at work developing ways for printers to create nanotech components from synthetics. These so-called organic electronics rely on highly conductive materials that break the production mold. A team of researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California and Technische Universität München (TUM) in Munich have been working to identify and improve upon the electrical properties of synthetic films. The TUM team recently reported that razor-thin polymer electrodes can be created on 3D printers using enhanced synthetic films. Researchers in California can be thanked for these enhanced films. The team at Lawrence Berkeley used X-ray radiation to alter the molecular structure of freshly printed synthetic layers and worked in conjunction with the TUM researchers to determine how different post-printing processes affected the films. The international team plans to publish their results in Advanced Materials, an industry trade journal. These new printing technologies are exciting, but more research is on the horizon. Making organic electronics is incredibly complex. The process will need to be closely observed and understood so that custom applications are possible in the future. Researchers are also working to perfect techniques to create the various layers in electronic components using only one process. This will increase convenience for manufacturers and will allow the large-scale use of 3D printing to create designer electronics. There’s a great deal at stake here for businesses. Projected future markets for these technologies include solar cells, RFID tags, touch screens, glowing films and flexible displays. With future projects in development, such as wallpaper made of OLEDs, it is not surprising that organic electronics are expected to make a big impact on the consumer market thanks to this incredible range of applications. Of course, the ability to print designer electronics on a 3D printer also significantly increases prototyping and bespoke design capabilities for small businesses. Instead of blowing their research and development budgets on electronics manufacturing, businesses will be able to print components in house for immediate testing. It may seem a distant dream now, but the enthusiasm of researchers in California and Munich indicates that printed electronics are closer than many might...

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A Faster Way to 3D Print
Mar24

A Faster Way to 3D Print

Carbon3D unveiled their Continuous Liquid Interface Production (CLIP) 3-D printer at the TED Conference in Vancouver last week. Their new technology allows CLIP to extrude objects from a pool of UV-sensitive material as opposed to using lasers on solids like conventional 3-D printers. Ultra-violet light is shined through an oxygen permeable membrane in the bottom of the pool to harden the resin. The process is 25-100 times faster than other printers. Dr. Joseph DeSimone, CEO and co-founder of the company, demonstrated CLIP onstage by extruding a sphere of material in seven minutes, something that would have taken a standard 3-D printer ten hours to accomplish. This version of the printer is quite small and is able to create objects no larger than four inches wide and up to a foot tall. The demonstrations were all in polyurethane materials to form hard plastics. The company claims that it is also capable of printing rubber-like materials. Both of these materials are very useful in engineering and prototyping. Dentistry may also have a use for CLIP. Competing companies are already marketing small 3-D printers for the industry and CNC milling machines to make crowns onsite in about 15 minutes. Using CLIP could cut that time by half. Another possibility is the movie and entertainment industry. They would be able to use the technology to create concept models and props in a fraction of the time currently required. Carbon3D has not started selling CLIP yet, but they hope to have it on the market within a year. They are well funded for the next phase of their development. The small start up has raised over $41 million in capital so far from companies like Silver Lake Kraftwerk and Sequoia...

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Ford Discovers Silicon Valley (at last!)
Jan30

Ford Discovers Silicon Valley (at last!)

Ford Motor Company recently announced  the opening of a new R&D department in Silicon Valley, tapping former Apple engineer Dragos Maciuca to head the department. CTO and VP for global product development, Raj Nair, says that the company is “[…] increasingly seeing the car being the biggest consumer electronics device you can have.” Ford says the plan is to have a team of approximately 125 software and user experience engineers in the department by the end of the year. This should give Ford the biggest automotive center in the valley, with employees primarily lured by the “very competitive” pay and the opportunity to build products that change the way people live. The new department is also strategically located to place Ford’s cutting edge R&D closer to potential partners.  With more young software engineers likely to be in Silicon Valley than in Detroit, the location makes the department the perfect place to source emerging talent. While some might say Ford is late to the Silicon Valley “party,” CEO Mark Fields disagrees. According to him, having the right business acumen and trend-watching is enough to match the head start other companies have. Looking at the current trends, it’s probable that Ford will try just about anything, up to and including 4G remote-controlled cars. Fields says they have the opportunity to solve transportation, as well as to grow the business beyond the traditional scope. While he’s probably right, it’s difficult to tell how Ford’s touted projects could be particularly vital to consumers, or where it could take future research. More importantly, Ford is lagging in the ‘Infotainment’ arena, losing the edge it had in 2007 with Sync. The current work hasn’t been promising, even though Ford says it’s working on autonomous driving. Ford has the right idea in being in Silicon Valley, but the company has some catching up to...

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A Preview of Microsoft’s New Holographic Goggles
Jan23

A Preview of Microsoft’s New Holographic Goggles

Microsoft Corporation has been hard at work for several years developing their latest breakthrough in computing technology. Project HoloLens is a head-mounted holographic computer, similar to Oculus Rift, but with far more powerful capabilities. Project Hololens has an all-new interface—one that can be controlled by voice commands. For example, Project HoloLens (also known as “Baraboo”) has the ability to transport the user, via holographic display, to the surface of Mars. The user can “walk” on Mars and can even be joined by other users in different locations with all connected individuals being able to see and hear each other.  The possibilities for team-based simulations are almost endless. A possible real-world use for this device could take the form of virtual communication concerning the repair of a malfunctioning widget. In reality, the repairman could still be in bed in his own house, but, in the virtual reality world of Hololens, that person could be standing right beside you walking you through what you should check to determine the exact problem, even to the point of drawing virtual arrows and circles to show you what you should do to make the repair. Another feature of this technological marvel is the capability to allow the user to connect to all his or her devices/apps from wherever they happen to be at that moment. The holographic screen projects an image of said app into the air, allowing the user to “tap” the display the same way he or she would on a physical device. But wait… there’s more! Users will also have the ability to sculpt virtual toys, such as snowmen, Barbie dolls and Marvel action figures, and then print them out using a 3D printer. Rapid prototyping just took a huge leap forward. Project HoloLens works by allowing the brain to interpret light signals as matter. Light bounces around violently in what the designers have dubbed the “light engine” of the device. This light then filters its way into the goggle’s eyepieces, where it bounces between multiple layers of green, red and blue glass before finally entering your eyes. All of these “special effects” create the illusion of 3-dimensional matter. Microsoft plans to release Hololens in the spring of 2015. While Magic Leap, the Google equivalent, is expected to be released at approximately the same time, Google declines to comment on the progress of the gadget’s production....

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3D Printed Rocket Engine Parts Pass Hot Fire Test
Nov25

3D Printed Rocket Engine Parts Pass Hot Fire Test

The technology of additive manufacturing, more commonly known as 3D printing, is dramatically influencing the way companies design and build machinery for a wide variety of applications. NASA has recently become interested in additive manufacturing as a way to cheaply and expeditiously run necessary tests. In partnership with Aerojet Rocketdyne, NASA recently completed the first hot-fire tests on a copper-alloy rocket engine thrust chamber assembly, marking the first time that rigorous tests proved that parts manufactured by a 3D printer can withstand the severe stresses inflicted upon combustion engines in an actual space launch.  NASA and Aerojet Rocketdyne conducted 19 tests in all. The test subjects were four injector and thrust assembly configurations. NASA explored various injector operability points and fuel mixture ratios. All of the tests were determined to have terminated successfully.Tyler Hickman, lead engineer for the testing performed at NASA’s Glenn Research Center, was elated with the results. “The successful hot fire test of subscale engine components provides confidence in the additive manufacturing process and paves the way for full scale development,” he said. NASA’s groundbreaking tests have wowed many scientists and proponents of additive manufacturing. As Aerojet Rocketdyne put it, copper alloy presents a complex challenge during the 3D printing process. As the copper’s elements are brought down to a micro-scale, the material’s properties are often significantly sub-standard when compared to typical copper. Aerojet Rocketdyne found a way to discover and exploit processing characteristics. The company performed rigorous testing on the copper alloy in order to determine how the alloy performs in the environment of a 3D printer. According to Paul Senick, project manager at Glenn Research Center, “Additively manufactured metal propulsion components are truly a paradigm shift for the aerospace industry. NASA and its commercial partners continue to invest in additive manufacturing technologies, which will improve efficiency and bring down the cost of space launches and other earth...

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New Robot Makes Creating New Life Forms Easy
Nov21

New Robot Makes Creating New Life Forms Easy

It’s entirely possible that the biggest changes in society during this century will come about due to innovations in biotechnology. One of the most talked about is the OpenTrons project. This open-source liquid-handling robot was developed in the Brooklyn, New York community biolab, Genspace. With open-source technology, anyone is able to build, modify or copy the the work depending on their personal preference, and can do so at the ridiculously low price of $35, the price of a Raspberry Pi microcomputer.  The popularity of 3-D printing has helped dramatically reduce the price of a basic OpenTrons to $2,000 by making it possible to cheaply and accurately duplicate the mechanical components. The thinking is that, much like people who work together coding to develop computer websites, software and apps, those working in Genspace-type facilities across the world will collaborate on biotech projects. One of the projects backers says this project is built for researchers who are not interested in programming but are interested in using simple interfaces.  Using robots eliminates the need for researchers to perform mind-numbingly repetitive jobs that lend themselves to errors caused by lapses in concentration. Other similar projects include Modern Meadow, which attempts to keep animals alive by “printing” such things as leather and meat through means of biotech, and synthetic biology tries to create genetic breakthroughs in such things as life-saving drugs and fertilizer by piecing together new organisms. One of the hopes is that standard lab protocols will be established in order to produce regular data that can then be duplicated. The end result would be that researchers could spend their time using their minds to think up new possibilities instead of becoming laborers who works with their...

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