While 3D printing (or additive manufacturing) has been used for product prototyping purposes, new developments from Disney Research could see electronics directly integrated into products as they are printed.
In the paper “Printed Optics: 3D Printing of Embedded Optical Elements for Interactive Devices”, the researchers from Disney Research looked at ways in which sensing, display and illumination elements can be directly embedded in the casing or structure of a device.
Particularly, they looked at the integration of display surfaces, illumination techniques such as light pipes, optical sensors and optoelectronic components that are either 3D printed directly into the devices, or, in the case of more advanced electronics, introduced in the middle of the 3D printing process and thus embedded into the final product.
With 3D printing becoming increasingly affordable, the researchers say one day devices with active electronic components could be created as a single object, rather than having a case and electronics created separately and assembled.
“This capability has tremendous potential for rapid high fidelity prototyping, and eventually for production of customised devices tailored to individual needs and/or specific tasks,” the researchers wrote. “It will be possible to design highly functional devices in a digital editor — importing components from a library of interactive elements, positioning and customising them, then pushing ‘print’ to have them realized in physical form.”
One of the main areas of breakthrough is in the 3D printing of optical elements, which need to propagate light clearly. Traditionally, optical elements have required precise manufacturing and finishing, but it is now possible to 3D print high resolution transparent optics with similar clarity to plexiglass. … (Read more)