Friday, April 19, 2024

Creating Electronic Parts With A Special 3D Printer

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Printed solenoids could make electronics cheaper and simpler to produce on Earth and in space.

Image: Courtesy of the researchers
Image: Courtesy of the researchers

Imagine using just a 3D printer to create an entire dialysis machine. Not only could this slash costs and reduce manufacturing waste, but it could also mean that people in remote or resource-limited areas could get their hands on this vital medical equipment more efficiently, as it wouldn’t have to be made in a factory.

MIT researchers developed a custom 3D printer to create fully 3D-printed, high-performance solenoids essential for various electronics. This innovation could reduce manufacturing costs and be valuable for space exploration by enabling on-site production of electronic components.

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Additive advantages

Solenoids, which create a magnetic field with electrical current, are challenging to integrate into electronic circuits due to their different manufacturing requirements. While traditional methods limit solenoid size and shape, additive manufacturing offers flexibility. However, producing solenoids with multiple materials complicates this process. To address this, researchers modified a commercial extrusion 3D printer, commonly using a single material feedstock, to fabricate solenoids layer by layer.

Producing the solenoids involves layering three materials: a dielectric insulator, a conductive coil, and a soft magnetic core. To prevent cross-contamination, the team used a printer with four nozzles dedicated to a specific material. Four extruders were necessary as the team tested two soft magnetic materials, one biodegradable thermoplastic-based and the other nylon-based.

Printing with pellets

Researchers modified a printer to use soft magnetic nylon pellets, overcoming challenges like material melting by adding ventilation and redesigning the spool holder. Despite a $4,000 cost, this method is more affordable than others. The modified hardware prints solenoids with precise temperature control, resulting in higher performance and more compact devices with more vital magnetic fields than other 3D-printed versions. The solenoids produced by this method have a magnetic field three times larger than other 3D-printed devices.

Although these solenoids can’t generate as much magnetic field as traditional ones, they could be helpful in small sensors or soft robots. The researchers plan to improve their performance by exploring better materials and more precise temperature control to reduce defects.

Nidhi Agarwal
Nidhi Agarwal
Nidhi Agarwal is a journalist at EFY. She is an Electronics and Communication Engineer with over five years of academic experience. Her expertise lies in working with development boards and IoT cloud. She enjoys writing as it enables her to share her knowledge and insights related to electronics, with like-minded techies.

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