3D printing (or additive manufacturing) refers to a process in which a 3D printer is used for stacking layers of material under computer control, following a 3D model (or other electronic data source), resulting in a printed three-dimensional object.
Various applications for 3D printing include design visualization and prototyping, metal casting, architecture, education, healthcare, entertainment and more. As 3D printing technology continues to evolve and develop, researchers imply possible biotechnological uses like bio-printing and computer-aided tissue engineering as well as retail manufacturing of custom end products which might change the face of commerce.
A large number of 3D printing processes exist nowadays, differing mainly in their methods of layering and the materials that are used. Some methods melt or soften material to produce layers while others use liquid materials or thin layers of material that are cut to shape and joined together. 3D printing materials are varied, and include Thermoplastics, HDPE, Rubber, edible materials, clay, metal alloy, and more. New technologies, such as infusing carbon fibers into plastics, allow for a stronger, lighter material.
Graphene, a single-atomic layer of carbon atoms arranged in a hexagonal lattice, is repeatedly dubbed a “wonder material” due to its immense array of uncanny properties like extraordinary conductivity, flexibility and transparency.
Graphene-enhanced nanocomposite materials greatly improve traditional materials used in 3D printing, like plastics. Graphene nanoplatelets that are added to polymers make materials that are mechanically stronger and with improved thermal and electrical conductivity.
Graphene 3D Lab, a joint-venture between Graphene Labs and Lomiko Metals, is one of the leaders in this new market. The company's founder and COO, Dr. Elena Polyakova comments in an interview for Graphene-info on the advantages of graphene-based materials over current 3D printing materials: “Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF) -- a method of 3D printing in which filament is extruded layer by layer to create objects -- capabilities are currently bound by the offerings of filaments, which generally includes non-functional thermoplastics. While such plastics are great for printing desktop models and fascinating gadgets, the real-world applications of printing with such filaments by themselves are limited. By creating a line of materials with functional properties, the capabilities of FFF 3D printers will be greatly expanded.
By way of example, filaments infused with graphene can be conductive and much more durable than non-specialized filaments, features which are necessary for a host of applications. We also intend to develop filaments with other functional properties, including magnetic capabilities.” as per Dr. Polyakova's words, Graphene 3D Lab is funded to begin production of printing filaments in the near future, and is working towards a target of reaching commercial production around the first half of 2015.
Graphene 3D Labs also plans to produce 3D printable batteries, based on graphene. These batteries can potentially outperform current commercial batteries, and will come in shapes and sizes that can be tailored to match the designs of specific devices. The company already unveiled a prototype battery in October 2014. In March 2015 G3L announced that it has launched commercial sales of its conductive graphene filament for 3D printing. The filament incorporates highly conductive proprietary nanocarbon materials to enhance the properties of PLA, a widely used thermoplastic material for 3D printing. The filament is therefore compatible with most commercially available 3D printers. In June 2015, the company announced the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with Ideum, a company which develops large-scale smart-tables and walls. The agreement lays the foundation for joint research, product development, and marketing between the two companies. Graphene 3D and Ideum will evaluate and co-develop products by Graphene 3D which can be used as capacitive sensors to interface with Ideum's products. Graphene 3D will also begin commercial on-demand 3D printing of coasters, joysticks, and styluses which Ideum clients can use to interact with their smart-tables. For example, styluses of various shapes, 3D printed in Conductive Graphene Filament, may be used as brushes used in photo editing software to give a more hands-on feel to creative work done on an Ideum smart-table.
The latest graphene 3D printing news:
Associate professor of engineering at Texas State University,Dr. Maggie Chen, has been researching and studying durable, flexible electronic circuits in hopes of creating new antennas for NASA space travel programs. Chen’s work is expected to eventually replace the common use of silver materials in antennas. Ideally, Chen’s 3D-printed antennas would use graphene.
“With the antennas, our goal is to reduce the volume and weight of the antennas and to provide and implement a more efficient approach to the use of antennas in space,” Chen said. “The idea is we roll the antennas up, launch a satellite into space and pop them back out when in space so they can communicate with the stations on the ground.”
XG Sciences, designer and manufacturer of graphene nanoplatelets and advanced materials containing graphene nanoplatelets, and Terrafilum, an eco-friendly, high quality filament producer for the 3D printing industry, announced a joint development agreement to develop, produce and market 3D printing filaments and coatings using graphene-based materials.
Chris Jackson, President of Terrafilum, points out, "The full potential for 3D printing is starting to be unlocked. The addition of XG's graphene formulations into our eco-friendly filaments will transform products allowing a greater variety of parts to be created at faster production rates using less energy."
Aecom has produced a graphene arch using additive manufacturing techniques. It believes the method could reduce the time and cost of installing digital signalling systems and transform the digitization of transport networks. The 4.5-meter high, lightweight arch is being tested on outdoor track at Network Rail’s workforce development center in Bristol.
GrapheneCA, graphene producer and developer of graphene-based technology for industries and consumers, has announced that it has signed a memorandum of understanding with Apis Cor to develop a 3D printing system capable of printing graphene materials.
GrapheneCA and its partner Apis Cor, a developer of specialized concrete 3D printing equipment, are discussing a future co-operation in which GrapheneCA will design an extruder and mixing system that can be embedded into Apis Cor’s 3D printer. Together, the two companies are expecting to develop a 3D printing system capable of printing graphene material.
Canadian graphene developer Grafoid announced that it launched a new company, called Grafprint3D, to develop and produce 3D printing materials based on Grafoid's MesoGraf graphene - although Grafprint3D's current materials are actually graphene inks for screen printing and inkjet printing and not 3D printed ones.
Grafoid says that initially the new company will focus on wearable device fabrication with biocompatible polymers, biomaterial substrates for cell therapy engineering research, and rapid product prototyping with printable advanced nanomaterials.