Researchers in Singapore have developed a new and innovative method for printing complex, flexible electronic circuits using nothing more than a standard t-shirt printer.
The researchers are able to print transistors, resistors, capacitors and other components in layers onto aluminum foil, paper, plastic and other day-to-day materials. They believe this will open the way for more affordable and accessible online design software for smart custom products, such as bandages that alert you when it is time for them to be replaced, patches to monitor your heart rate, or food packaging that warns the user when the food has expired, or just custom products online designing.
Associate Professor Joseph Chang, who works at the School of Electrical and electronic Engineering at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, explained that they were not aiming to compete with high-end electronics companies, or make anything like the processors which are used in tablet PCs and smartphones. Rather, they want to allow people to add useful electronic features to their existing products. They want to offer cheap, disposable electronics to the mass market.
Responsible Disposable Electronics Online design
We live in a throwaway society, and disposable electronics will inevitably take off. However, knowing that there are risks associated with making disposable items of this type, the researchers have focused on making the printer use non-toxic materials, including silver nano-particles and carbon. Their goal is to ensure that the products are non-corrosive and that they will not harm the environment if they end up in landfill.
The printer allows for on-demand printing of small or large designs in batches of any size. It uses print technology that has been commercially available for decades, and it can scale to suit the size of the business and the demand for the product.
To date, the most complex item that the company has printed using the technology is a 4-bit digital/analogue converter. This component is used to convert signals into sound to send to headphones and speakers. They are exploring more detailed options. The university has four people – two engineers, one chemist and a material scientist, working on the product. They hope to improve it so that it can be reliably used for biomedical devices that require both digital and analogue printed circuits.