3D printed electronics – our future

Never Ending Possibilities! Experts Take a Look at 3D Printing Modular Computers and Printable Cell Phones in the Near Future



Hidden among the many leaps forward in wearables and monitors at CES was a smaller, more impressive advancement: a printer from start-up company Voxel8 that can actually print circuitry.

I’ve been soaking up articles on this new printer since CES, and it’s difficult not to become excited with speculation of where this technology could go. Printable cell phones! Modular computers! The future! It’s easy to be carried away by the possibilities.

In an attempt to offer a reality check I’ve rounded up what’s possible now, where the technology might be heading, and what’s just pure speculation.

What makes these new printers different?

Up until now, 3D printing has been relegated to solid, plastic objects. The usual technique, known as “additive manufacturing,” creates an item by depositing layers of PLA (polylactic acid) on top of one another.

Voxel8’s new device prints using the same PLA material but has a second pneumatic nozzle that can dispense a special type of silver ink. Able to dry at room temperature in about five minutes, the ink is incredibly conductive (over 5,000 times more than its current carbon counterparts), which is what allows it to replace the hand-applied solder or filaments that you see today.

Some of the more pedestrian details include a 4.3-inch touchscreen, Wi-Fi connectivity, and five cartridges of Voxel8’s custom, silver ink. Its price tag is a little more attention-grabbing, running just shy of nine grand ($8,999); which places it out of the “personal hobbyist” sector for now.

What’s possible now

One of the devices Voxel8 showed CES as a “proof of concept” was a 3D printed quad-copter drone. Built as one solid enclosed unit, it was a hit at the show among hobbyists and 3D printing aficionados. But even more interesting developments were happening at a slightly larger scale.


After winning $50,000 as contestants in the 2014 MassChallenge (the world’s largest start-up accelerator), Voxel8’s technology caught the attention of the Mitre Corporation, which oversees multiple federally funded research projects.

One of Mitre’s projects was the creation of array antennas for the U.S. government. Having run into challenges with traditional manufacturing methods, Voxel8’s technology looked like it could provide a solution. Jamie Hood, a mechanical engineer at Mitre, states “the capabilities Voxel8 provides are nonexistent on the market today.” That might mean little to consumers, but it’s a sign that Voxel8’s technology is more than just a cutting-edge curiosity.

Project Wire Printing Project Wire Components

This new style of printing is also receiving software support from Autodesk, one of the leaders in 3D printing software. Project Wire, specifically made for Voxel8, will let users work with CAD (computer-aided design) files when designing their new devices. The custom software will streamline the creation process, helping users share and iterate on design files. The fact that Project Wire is open-source means the user community will be able to add features and toolsets as needed, making it a particularly robust tool.

Plans for the future

Dr. Jennifer Lewis, a Harvard professor and one of the cofounders of Voxel8, has experience with an array of 3D printing materials. From extremely stiff composite material to stretchable sensors, Lewis believes that 3D printing is going to revolutionize manufacturing as we know it.

In an interview with her alma mater, Lewis said, “rather than shipping components, you are going to be shipping CAD files and then you’re going to have local centers of manufacturing excellence, where these CAD files are just ported and directly products come out.”

This is especially beneficial for devices that rely on custom form-factors. It’s easy to see the potential benefit of creating odd-sized circuitry for wearables.

Daniel Oliver, Voxel8’s other cofounder, points outthat another draw for 3D designers is efficiency. “People will also be able to start creating circuits on their desks. So, if you wanted to test out a circuit design, you could print out a circuit board directly on your desk.”

Rather than spending a couple of days working on a handmade prototype, you’ll be able to print one off in about one hour. And without the restriction of standardized circuit boards, designers are free to rethink the form, factor and geometry of their creations.

The distant horizon

Oliver sums up Voxel8’s immediate goal within the industry: “For 3D printing to push the limits of what’s done now, it has to solve key issues that current manufacturing technologies don’t.” The company hopes to expand its device’s abilities to include printing resistors, stretchable electronics, and even lithium-ion batteries. Those are big promises, though, and Voxel8 wants to focus on understanding what industries are most receptive to 3D printing for now.

NASA sent up its first 3D printer to the International Space Station this September, and its been receiving some pretty heavy use. It’s difficult not to speculate what the engineers at NASA could get up to with the ability to print items outside of inert plastic objects. The thought of having CAD files to create replacement parts in space, rather than rocketing up spare parts, could potentially have a huge impact on cost-savings in the burgeoning industry of private space travel.

Reality check

While all these developments are exciting, its important to remember all new technology comes with growing pains. One issue is that the necessary silver conductive ink is only available through Voxel8, meaning that while you’ll be free to create whatever you’d like, you’ll also be tethered to one company for all your supplies. That’s the business model, of course, but it could be a problem if Voxel8 ever goes under or if builders want access to alternative materials that the company doesn’t sell.

And while you’ll be able to pause the job mid-print to insert more complicated circuits or wiring of your own design, the device is currently limited to printing basic conductors. That means no integrated electrical circuits, and many of Voxel8’s users will be stuck inserting more complicated circuitry manually, just like the days of old.

Voxel8 has a lot of hype to live up to, and odds are its only going to increase, as these printers won’t be shipping until the end of the year. But Lewis and company are off to a good start, and with any luck the price the expensive initial model will be followed by a more affordable consumer version. I’m still holding out hope for that self-printed computer, one day.

by | February 3, 2015

3D printed gadgets for iPhone 6

Only for iPhone 6 users!

New phones, new gear. We bring you 3D printed gadgets for the latest iPhone, including speakers and portable charging docks!


iPhone6 3200mah Charger with USB Power Out 3d printed Accessories Music

In light of Apple’s latest record-breaking smartphone, Malta 3D Printing has selected a number of useful printables to enhance the iPhone experience.

Early purchasers may have been left with a sour taste in their mouth due to some unforeseen problems, but our selection of unique products will help turn their frowns upside down.

This stylish iPhone 6 charger is sure to save your blushes in a sticky situation – remember that time you accidentally deserted your date, only because your iPhone ran out of battery? What about that time you got lost in the woods searching for your camping buddies?

This versatile gadget annihilates any chance of those awkward situations becoming reality.

Not only does it charge your iPhone faster than a regular charger, it also extends the battery life. Gone are the days when our trusty cellphone batteries would last a couple of days in the red zone. In 2014, low-battery means it’s time to panic!

Using Wi-Fi, 3G, or an application (practically any smartphone function) drains the battery like crazy.

Simply slot your brand new iPhone 6 or 6 Plus into the case and voila.

For the energy conscious customer, a solar-powered version is also available, helping you bring your electricity bill down.  The electronics required are simple to attach to the case, but a full-kit version with no assembly is also available.

If you’re looking for something simpler, this standard iPhone dock will do the job.

There’s nothing unique or special about it, but sometimes simplicity is all you need. On that note, 3D printing marketplaces are now jam-packed with different iPhone 6 cases. Some are quite stylish, like this steampunk case, and others quite basic.

While you’re still buzzing from the familiar smell of a freshly opened iPhone, savor the moment by blasting your favourite tunes. Should Apple’s sound hardware not provide you with the kick you needed, try a set of 3D printed enhancement speakers.

This model by Thingiverse user Datheus is sure to turn a quiet night in with friends into a thumping house party. All that’s required is for users to place their smartphones into the device and prepare for the onslaught of noise complaints.

iPhone users on the go will be tired of fumbling around whilst driving in search of their trusty smartphone – a recipe for disaster. Imagine dodging traffic as it rings away in your bag or pocket, only for you to have missed the call by the time you’ve fished it out.

Debuting on Thingiverse only two days ago, this simple case protects the iPhone and allows drivers to safely answer calls without too much attention diverted from the road.

It’s also been modified to accommodate for charging.

Only released a few weeks ago now, the list of 3D printable enhancement products for the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus is still relatively small – but having smashed all previous iPhone and smartphone sales records, we can expect the list to grow quickly.
by  | 29 September 2014

3D printed braille phone

World’s first braille phone launched in Australia!!

How were the obstacles in this project overcome? 3D printing, of course!


Graph for OwnFone launches first 3D-printed braille phone in Australia

Australia’s vision-impaired community has a new and affordable connectivity tool at its disposal as the world’s first braille mobile phone launches in Australia.

The stripped-down OwnFone handset — there’s no touchscreen, no text messaging and no voicemail — can be programmed with up to three personalised numbers, each dialled from 3D-printed buttons labelled in braille.

It’s the 3D-printing technology has enabled the British company that produces the handsets to bring costs down for vision-impaired consumers.

“In the past, the cost of developing a braille phone versus the market size has been a barrier to entry,” OwnFone’s UK-based inventor, Tom Sunderland, said.

“3D printing provides a fast and affordable way to overcome this barrier.”

Through a wholesale partnership with Vodafone, Australian customers can now purchase the handset from $89, with a range of pre- and post-paid price plans starting at $2.35 a week.

OwnFone has been selling its handsets in Britain for the last 2.5 years. Its Australian operations, headed by Brad Scoble, launched in April with the release of non-braille handsets designed for elderly and primary school-age children.

“The only difference is in the design of the phone,” Mr Scoble said.

“Kids and seniors have the option of words or images as buttons, whereas people who are blind have braille.”

At $69, OwnFone’s non-braille handsets are even cheaper, but Mr Scoble toldBusiness Spectator the cost of producing the braille version is higher.

“Braille is a very unique language and the alphabet’s very lengthy, so we had to make some modifications to the phone to make it user-friendly,” Scoble said.

Additionally, the manufacturing process requires each individual handset to be customised, with users providing up to three contact numbers (for example, of family, friends, carers or Triple Zero) which are then pre-programmed into the handset and printed on the front in braille.

OwnFone consulted extensively the vision-impaired community in Britain in developing the product to best meet users’ requirements.

Mr Scoble said the handset had been “very well received” in Britain because it was “very simple to operate”.

“There’s one-button dialling and any-key call-answering, so there are a few features about the handset that make it quite different,” he said.

Local vision-impaired advocates are also welcoming the product.

Australian Communications Consumer Action Network disability policy adviser Wayne Hawkins said the affordability of the OwnFone handset was a “positive addition” to the choices for the 35,000 or so consumers in Australia who are blind.

Mr Scoble told Business Spectator OwnFone is currently working on a new handset and will “potentially” look at moving into the popular wearables space as it continues servicing its target seniors market.

“We’re looking at how best to meet the needs of the community, through for instance how to tie the handset in with hearing aids and improving the way the handset will provide voice feedback to customers as well,” Mr Scoble said.

“We’re certainly not in the business of trying to compete with smartphone people.”

by Hannah Francis | July 25, 2014 4:00am

Conductive filament?

Liquid plastic and graphene (a material used to transmit electrical signals) may soon become printable, meaning that we could print entire phones or tablets at a go. Check out the link for more!


While 3D printing is taking off it still suffers from low resolution that leaves visible join lines on objects and plastics limit what can be printed. That could be about to change after liquid plastic and graphene filament has been discovered meaning we could soon be printing conductive materials for an entire gadget like a phone in one go.

Stephen Mills started an Indiegogo campaign, which is current not live, aiming to fund this new filament. Currently extruder nozels need to melt plastic strips before the liquid comes out and cools hard. This new liquid means no need to melt as it’s sealed and reacts to air to harden.

This new method should mean far smaller nozels which are capable of printing much more accurately. The liquid plastic will be printed at higher resolutions meaning the finish is far smoothers, leaving the final product looking more like the smooth virtual model finish.

Beyond plastic Mills claims he has also cracked graphene printing. This is a big deal as it could mean a fast and cheap method for printing graphene. Graphene is able to transmit electric signals meaning 3D printing complete computers, processors and all, could be just around the corner.