In an exciting new study, researchers at the University of Minnesota demonstrate how a customized, low-cost 3D printer can print electronics onto a moving hand.
Researchers at the University of Minnesota have used a customized low-cost 3D printer to apply electronic circuitry to a human hand.
A potential use for the technology is for soldiers on the battlefield to print temporary sensors on their bodies. These can detect chemical or biological agents, or feature solar cells to charge gadgets.
“We are excited about the potential of this new 3D printing technology using a portable, lightweight printer costing less than $400,” said Michael McAlpine, the study’s lead author and Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Minnesota.
“We imagine that a soldier could pull this printer out of a backpack and print a chemical sensor or other electronics they need, directly on the skin. It would be like a ‘Swiss Army knife’ of the future with everything they need all in one portable 3D printing tool.”
One of the 3D printer’s key innovations is that it can adjust to small movements of the body during fabrication. Temporary markers are placed on the skin and the skin is scanned. The printer then uses these markers to calibrate real-time adjustments to any movement.
“No matter how hard anyone would try to stay still when using the printer on the skin, a person moves slightly and every hand is different,” McAlpine explains.
“This printer can track the hand using the markers and adjust in real-time to the movements and contours of the hand, so printing of the electronics keeps its circuit shape.”
3D Print Electronics with Ink Made from Silver Flakes
This 3D printing technique has another unique feature; it uses a specialized ink made of silver flakes that can cure and conduct at room temperature.
This is distinct from other 3D printing inks because they typically require curing at high temperatures. These can be as high as 100 degrees Celsius or 212 degrees Fahrenheit. Needless to say, temperatures that hot would burn the skin when applied.
To remove the electronics, the user can simply peel it off using tweezers. Alternatively, they can wash it off with soap and water.
In addition to electronics, the new 3D printing technique has the potential to print cells to help those with skin diseases. For this aspect of the study, McAlpine’s team partnered with pediatrics doctor Dean Jakub Tolar, a world-renowned expert on treating rare skin disease.
The team successfully used a bioink to print cells onto the skin wound of a mouse. These results could lead to advanced medical treatments and grafts for those with skin diseases.
“I’m fascinated by the idea of printing electronics or cells directly on the skin,” McAlpine enthuses. “It is such a simple idea and has unlimited potential for important applications in the future.”
Would you like to learn more? The research study has been published in the academic journal Advanced Materials.
Source: University of Minnesota