Advanced additive manufacturing applications
While NASA explores the power of 3D printing in the development of the next generation Space Exploration Vehicle, a CubeSat namesd Trailblazer is scheduled to be launched in 2013 that for the first time integrates 3D printed structures with embedded electronics.
Space provides a terribly harsh environment necessary to demonstrate the durability of 3D printed devices with radiation, extreme thermal cycling and low pressure - all attacking the structure at the atomic to macro scales. Consequently, devices that are operational in orbit can be relied upon in many terrestrial environments – including many defense and bio-medical applications.
To address the challenges in future 3D printed electronics with regard to dielectric and conductor performance, a next generation technology is under development and being referred to as a Multi-Material, Multi-Technology (Multi3D) FDM system. Based on an extrusion process, a system has been developed that integrates other complementary technologies to compensate for FDM’s deficiencies in surface finish, minimum dimensional feature size and porosity. Additionally, to eliminate the use of conductive inks, a novel embedding technology submerges copper wires into the thermoplastic dielectric structures during process interruptions – providing high performance robust interconnect and ground planes – and serendipitously improving the mechanical properties of the structure.