We are actively integrating multiple technologies with AM to produce unique capabilities that result in new and exciting manufacturing processes. The combination of material extrusion, direct wire embedding, micromachining, direct-write of conductive inks, machine vision, and robotic component placement allow the fabrication of unique devices valued in industries like aerospace, biomedical and consumer electronics. This combination of complementary technologies results in the realization of multi-functionality.
3D Printed Electronics
UTEP has been leading the convergence of AM and Direct Printing (DP) technologies over the past decade for the development of 3D Printed Electronics – multi-material, heterogeneous, electronic structures exhibiting non-conventional 3D component placement and conductor routing. We have also now incorporated the use of copper wires/foils embedding through thermal or ultrasonic methods for improved conductivity. These efforts are of particular importance to the aerospace industry, intelligence community, and national defense agencies.
The use of polymers in AM enables the production of parts for ranging from automobile components to biomedical implants. A wide variety of material systems are available such as ULTEM (a high performance thermoplastic with excellent strength-to-weight ratio) and polyethylene glycol (a biocompatible and potentially biodegradable polymer). Common polymer AM processes include material extrusion, vat photopolymerization, and powder bed fusion – all technologies contained in the Keck Center’s broad collection of machines.
AM of metals refers to a class of AM processes where end-use parts are directly fabricated, usually layer-by layer, from digital data. Technologies that fabricate from powder metal systems hold promise to revolutionize the way we currently fabricate complex metallic components by enabling the design and production of more efficient (faster, stronger, and lighter) and less expensive components.
The use of ceramics in AM is gaining popularity for their ability to withstand high temperatures and chemical erosion. Ceramics can be used in printed circuit boards, sensors, heaters, transducers, as well as in biomedical applications, such as in the construction of dental and bone implants. Binder jetting technology, one of the Keck Center’s many capabilities, has been studied as a means for building ceramic parts using materials like Barium Titanate IV and Aluminum Oxide.
Engineered and Structured Materials
We are investigating ways to improve thermoplastic materials that are used to create prototypes and functional parts. This is achieved through the use of additives and material blends that improve material strength, hardness, flexibility, and stretchability as well as optimize permittivity and permeability, increase thermal conductivity, and improve radiation shielding.
Biomedical Printing Applications
We are capable of creating 3D anatomical models to aid surgeons and medical researchers. Individualized computer and physical models can be created from medical imaging data to simulate the anatomy of, for example, an abdominal aneurysm, a human jaw bone, or even a human brain. We also study flow characteristics in individualized cardiovascular system models, and are breaking new ground by creating bioactive tissue engineering “scaffolds” that give regenerated tissue a place to live and grow. These complex-shaped hydrogel constructs have been applied in guided angiogenesis and nerve regeneration.