Engineers have embedded high-performance electrical circuits inside 3D-printed plastics, which could lead to smaller and versatile drones and better-performing small satellites, biomedical implants, and smart structures.
Pulses of high-energy light were used to fuse tiny silver wires, resulting in circuits that conduct 10 times more electricity than the state-of-the-art. By increasing conductivity tenfold, the engineers can reduce energy use, extend the life of devices, and increase their performance.
Embedding electrical interconnections inside 3D-printed structures made of polymers (plastics) can create new paradigms for devices that are smaller and more energy-efficient. Such devices could include CubeSats (small satellites), drones, transmitters, light and motion sensors, and Global Positioning Systems. Such interconnections are also often used in antennas, pressure sensors, electrical coils, and electrical grids for electromagnetic shielding.
The engineers used intense pulsed light sinterin — featuring high-energy light from a xenon lamp — to fuse long, thin rods of silver called nanowires. Fused silver nanomaterials are already used to conduct electricity in devices such as solar cells, displays, and radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags.
Next steps include making fully 3D internal circuits, enhancing their conductivity, and creating flexible internal circuits inside flexible 3D structures.