Screen printable conductive links could lead to real printed circuits
There’s been a lot of talk about wearable electronics lately.
A research project split between LTU’s Departments of Biomedical and Robotics Engineering, originated at the Centrepolis Accelerator, is moving that vision forward.
S3D Precision Dispensing Inc. is a spinout of University of Michigan research, but turned to the Centrepolis Accelerator and LTU to learn more about the printable inks that its precision 3D printing equipment can print onto various substrates, from glass to plastic to fabrics.
Yawen Li, associate professor and chair of biomedical engineering, supervised two LTU students, Bethany Balint. BSBME’21, and Faisal Akbar, BSME’17, MSMSE’20, in doing a variety of tests on the inks.
“The students did a lot of product development to develop curing techniques for different kinds of conductive inks, characterizing them as to morphology, conductivity, adhesion, and scratch resistance,” Li said.
The inks could be used to print actual working circuits on everything from hard plastics to bulletin boards, and it wouldn’t matter if the surfaces were flat or curved.
The project began in March 2020, but was stopped from April to July 2020 due to the pandemic. It resumed in August and concluded in November. The students studied how long it took for inks to cure, how difficult it was to peel them off glass and polycarbonate substrates, and tested their resistivity and how easily they scratched. The also used LTU’s scanning electron microscope to determine how thick the inks were on the surfaces.
Said Akbar: “Being a part of this project was a rewarding experience, especially under the guidance of Dr. Yawen Li and Dr. James Mynderse. I thank the S3D team for their constant support and working tips throughout the development of the project.” Added Balint: “This research project gave me experience working without constant supervision, but guidance from Dr. Li, Dr. Mynderse, and the S3D team.Testing curing methods and the characteristics of the ink provided me with hands-on experience using equipment I had never previously used. Presenting weekly updates to the S3D team gave me practice with presenting to a client as well as receiving feedback on needed improvements. I gained experience that will help me with future endeavors.”
S3D CEO Mike Vitek said the project “worked out really well. Lawrence Tech provided a lot of the foundational research that needed to be done, and we can use it moving forward in development and design of our future products.”
Conductive inks that produce working circuits on various substrates have a wide variety of applications in “microcircuits, microantennas, microheaters,” Vitek said. “Imagine car door panels filled with 5G antennas, or microheaters embedded in car seats rather than large swaths of copper.”