Additive manufacturing, one of the technologies involved in the Industrial Revolution 4.0, is emphatically stamping its presence on industry as it becomes increasingly simple, intuitive and accessible. This means an increase in capabilities, variety of materials and applications, all of them aimed at innovation, creativity, process improvement and the profitability associated with them. Going beyond the personalisation of products and services, additive manufacturing opens up a range of new possibilities for contemporary industry, facilitating new designs previously unimaginable with classic manufacturing technologies.
In our series of posts on additive manufacturing, we commented that at IKOR we were working with 3D printing both for rapid prototyping in the design phase and for the manufacture of tools. If the first of the applications remains at the usual level of activity, the second of them has grown exponentially within IKOR. Every day within we manufacture more frames, tools and spare parts using additive manufacturing. This is now everyday work for us; but having arrived at this point, and given our restless nature, here at IKOR we are asking ourselves:
What if we made our parts intelligent? Could we incorporate the conductive tracks in the casings themselves?
To find the answer to these questions, we launched several R&D&I projects. We have been collaborating with Tecnun-School of Engineers at the University of Navarra and CEIT-IK4 for a number of years, studying the feasibility of introducing new functional materials in the world of electronics, using additive manufacturing technologies, or 3D printing. We have studied the behaviour of commercial conductive filaments, as well as specifically developing filaments with electrical properties together with Tecnalia which allow a very useful flexibility in the design of the test benches that we use in IKOR to test the manufactured electronic boards.
One of the main objectives of this research has been to obtain the best printing strategy, so that both the geometry of these tracks and the printing parameters of the conductive material are optimised to minimise their resistivity. We are also investigating how to integrate electronic components in the plastic parts themselves, in order to provide the pieces with an “intelligence” that is currently achieved by incorporating PCBs. To achieve this, the integration of the components with conductive adhesives cured at room temperature is being investigated.
Using double head printers, we have been able to integrate the conductive tracks, which connect sensors, push-buttons and light indicators to the control boards, in the actual casing. And we have even connected several boards through the plastic casing itself.
But we did not want to leave it at that, and with the aim of adding intelligence to the printing process itself we are working together with Vicomtech on a vision system for quality control of printing. But we’ll talk about that in a future post …