IMPACT – Integrated Manufacture of Polymer and Conductive Tracks

IMPACT is an InnovateUK funded project focused on the development of a new 5-axis 3D printing capability that is able to deposit polymer (using the Fuse Deposition Modelling process) and conductive ink within the same build volume. The 18 month programme, which was completed in March 2019, brought together a number of leading industry and academic partners that included: C Enterprise Ltd (CEL); Printed Electronics Ltd (PEL); Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG); and ITERATE Design + Innovation. The output of this collaboration was an industrial grade platform capable of producing fully functional electro-mechanical parts 500 x 500 x 500 cm in size.

Case Study

ITERATE worked alongside Ambionics to create a lower arm prosthetic that leveraged the capability of this new technology. Prosthetics are often difficult to manually assemble due to their complexity and are also weight critical. Prosthetics that are uncomfortable to wear, over sized or too heavy are rejected by the user. This prosthetic incorporated silver ink tracks, which removed the need for copper wires. Using a myro sensor connected to a linear actuator, the thumb opens and closes to create a firm grip when the user tenses a functional part of their arm, which is located inside the socket.

Through the undertaking of this project, ITERATE accumulated a vast amount of knowledge on how to design 3D printed polymer parts that integrate conductive tracks. This new technology has the capability to create fully functional electro-mechanical products straight off the machine bed. The 5-axis capability ensures that the parts created has a much higher structural integrity than those created on a traditional 3-axis machine. Whilst this project concentrated on producing a lower arm prosthetic, the potential for this technology to be applied across the aerospace, automotive, medical, consumer and industrial sectors is huge!

Machine Benefits

• Fuse Deposition Modelling: well established method that utilises engineering polymers such as ABS, ABS-GF, PA and CoPA
• 5-Axis Rotation: improved structural integrity of parts by manipulating direction of layers and removing the need for support structure to be used
• Conductive Tracks: eliminate the need for copper wires; helps to reduce weight and assembly time, and create geometries that are currently impossible to build
• Subtractive Manufacture: cutting head provides a post finishing process and also enables features to be added that may require a higher dimensional tolerance

For in-depth material data, including track compatibility and fatigue testing (stress and strain) click here.

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