Added value: the rise of multifunctional 3D printing

UK-led advances in 3D printing could one day lead to techniques able to produce entire electronic devices in one shot. It’s fair to say that over the past few years much of the hype surrounding 3D printing has given way to a more considered and sensible notion of where the technology fits in.

While not so long ago some warned that so-called additive techniques would usurp incumbent manufacturing processes, today they are increasingly seen as complementary: another tool in the toolbox.

But according to Prof Richard Hague, director of the EPSRC centre for additive manufacturing, fundamental breakthroughs are on the horizon that could ultimately help realise some of the more exotic predictions that have been made for the technology.

Based at Nottingham University, Hague’s 70-strong team of researchers is making something of a name for itself in one of additive’s most exciting vanguards: the field of multifunctional 3D printing, or 4D printing as it’s sometimes called.

While existing systems typically use just one material, the idea is that multifunctional printers will produce fully functional components from multiple materials, both metals and plastics. It sounds fanciful, but the group has already made significant progress and such techniques could, it is believed, one day enable manufacturers to print entire electronic devices – such as mobile phones –  in one go. … (read more)


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