Not Your Father's 3D Printing

Not Your Father's 3D Printing image
January 4, 2016 | Source: Draper Laboratory, draper.com

New techniques push component-based additive manufacturing to full systems prototypes.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – From concept models to design iterations and low-rate production, 3D printing has quickly emerged as a means of visually communicating ideas, trying out designs before committing to expensive production runs and even fixing parts. But conventional additive manufacturing equipment does not have the ability to efficiently print both the mechanical structure and the associated electronics. As a result, engineers must still design and fabricate parts separately and then assemble them into the final system, potentially taking several days to do this. Even that brief period can be a significant impediment when engineers are responding to an urgent need from customers.

“Designers are not able to fully leverage the benefits and promise of additive manufacturing because we don’t have additive manufacturing tools that can simultaneously print both the structure of a part as well as the integrated electronics,” said Christopher DiBiasio, Draper’s group leader for advanced manufacturing.

To address this shortcoming of additive manufacturing, Draper Laboratory has teamed with the University of Texas at El Paso to create 3D printing capabilities that deliver fully integrated electro-mechanical working prototypes within a few hours to enable engineers to press forward with their testing in shorter time frames and with fewer interruptions. America Makes, which facilitates collaboration among leaders from business, academia, non-profit organizations and government agencies to help the United States grow capabilities in additive manufacturing, announced on July 13 that it will contribute a grant to the team worth $1 million over 18 months to develop unique capabilities, build revolutionary applications and deliver prototypes that demonstrate a new approach.