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Scientists at Singapore's Institute of Materials Research and Engineering (IMRE) have invented a thermoplastic thread that can be used in 3D printers to create functional circuits for use in electrical gadgets. This new filament material is made from a blend of carbon powder and polypropylene (PP).

June 4, 2015

2 Min Read
Conductive thermoplastic filament enables 3D printing of circuits

The resistivity of IMRE's thermoplastic material is in the range of 0.5-1.0 cm. This compares with 15 cm for conductive filament based on polylactic acid (PLA) supplied by ProtoPlant according to IMRE. Further, the filament is strong enough to stay intact throughout the 3D printing process in a conventional thermoplastic 3D printer. The mechanical strength and heat resistance of this material is also reported to be significantly higher than existing conductive filaments, which are typically layers of conductive core and plastic outer coating.

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The new carbon powder-PP compound was used to print circuits on a flexible  base to  create a wearable sensor.

"I believe this will revolutionize desk-top manufacturing for electronic gadgets," said Dr. Johnson Goh, IMRE scientist and Head of the Science and Engineering Research Council's (SERC) Nanofabrication and Characterisation Group and Principal Investigator of this project. Goh and his team have used the new material to print prototypes such as a USB connector that can light up a LED bulb, complex three-dimensional circuits, and a wearable flexible sensor.

"Objects in various colors, shapes and textures complete with functional circuits including wires, resistors and capacitors, could one day be printed in the comfort of one's home," said Dr. Kwok Sen Wai, one of the key scientists in the team.

The team has shown that using IMRE material to 3D print circuits rather than creating circuits through the conventional etching-and-soldering method is much safer, faster and cheaper. In addition, such circuits have highly uniform conductivity, with less than a 5 percent variation, compared to more than a hundred percent in commercially available conductive filaments.

"We believe that our material will encourage more innovation and entrepreneurship as it will empower people to make prototypes more easily and cheaply," added Kwok. IMRE is actively looking for industry partners to commercialize the technology. The new technology is now available for licensing through A*STAR's commercialization arm, Exploit Technologies Pte Ltd (ETPL).

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