Stratasys Inc. and Optomec Inc. today announced that the companies have successfully completed a joint development project to merge 3D printing and printed electronics to create the world’s first fully printed hybrid structure.
The first project, the development of a “smart wing” for an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) model with functional electronics is a revolutionary event that has the potential to change product development in industries including medical device, consumer electronics, automotive and aerospace. A video on stratasys.com discusses the making of hybrid structures.
“Bringing together 3D printing and printed electronic circuitry will be a game changer for design and manufacturing,” says Jeff DeGrange, VP of direct digital manufacturing at Stratasys. “It has the potential to completely streamline production by requiring fewer materials and steps to bring a product to market.”
An Optomec Aerosol Jet system was used to print a conformal sensor, antenna and circuitry directly onto the wing of a UAV model. The wing was 3D printed with the Stratasys Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) process. The electrical and sensor designs were provided by Aurora Flight Sciences, a supplier of UAVs.
"We envision many potential applications of the Stratasys-Optomec approach for hybrid direct digital manufacturing,” said David Kordonowy, who leads Aurora Flight Sciences’ Aerostructures Research Group. “The ability to fabricate functional electronics into complex-shaped structures using additive manufacturing can allow UAVs to be built more quickly, with more customization, potentially closer to the field where they’re needed. All these benefits can lead to efficient, cost-effective fielded vehicles.”
The combination of FDM 3D printing and printed electronics technologies can provide benefits over traditional prototyping, manufacturing and field repair processes. Performance and functionality of products can be improved in two ways: 3D printers enable lighter weight mechanical structures; and conformal electronics printed directly onto the structure frees up space for additional payload. In turn, the process has a positive impact on the environment by using fewer materials.
“Manufacturers can implement this hybrid technology in a multitude of applications, not just in aerospace,” says Optomec’s Ken Vartanian. “This technology can benefit numerous industries by allowing thinner, lighter, fully functional structures that cost less to manufacture.”