This is something I totally forgot to blog about. TNO, a Dutch research institute, is doing a lot of interesting stuff in the field of rapid manufacturing. The work on improving 3D printers as well as doing lots of research and experimentation on processes and materials. Their Rapid Manufacturing department, TNO RM Research is located right here in Eindhoven. One of the things they showed me a while back but I totally forgot to share was this: 3D printed circuit boards. This is very far from being a scalable industrial process that we can use but it does point to an interesting future.
The process prints a housing as well as the circuit board itself in one go. The pictures below show you a very simple circuit board that when hooked up to a battery allows the lights to go on. This has huge implications for design and manufacturing and would take 3D printing from a "nice for prototypes" technology to a production process that could revolutionize how products are made. If the housing is the electronics form factors and the engineering in a lot of products we use could alter dramatically.
Wow, that is actually pretty amazing. i am in the product design field and I definitely agree that this could change things. It seems like it would allow us to build products that are smaller and thinner because you dont need two halves and a circuit board. just the two halves.
I wonder if this has significant ramifications for recyclability - it seems to me that if all this stuff is composited together, it'll be hard(er) to separate it out again into it's materials again when it reaches the end of it's life.
It would be harder to separate. But currently the issue with recycling things is partially separation but also the infrastructure and willingness of consumers and companies to recycle. A lot of the issues with environmentally harmful materials is that the people that designed those materials did not take recycling into account. "we need a plastic that looks pretty and is cheap." Because recycling infrastructure has partially been established and the environment is more 'top of mind' it will be something that features in materials design going forward. A post consumer recycled 3D printing material is one thing that I would really really like to see.
One thing that 3D printing is great for is research. Check out http://blog.modularrobotics.net, where robot-blocks were printed into cubes, able to be connected together in many different ways... So much potential for making novel entertainment/learning for kids.