Guest Post: 3D Printing Silver Ink – Circuits, Roll-Up Computers and More
Editor’s Note: This guest post is written by Chris Waldo, who is a technology enthusiast and copywriter with a focus in 3D printing. He is currently working as the Content Manager for the 3D printing network, Kraftwurx. Follow him on Facebook or Twitter. We previously covered Chris’ work about renewable energy.
Xerox has recently developed a new type of silver “ink” which has a few qualities to it that are truly unique. This silver has been engineered to melt at a temperature lower than plastic, film, and various fabrics. What is significant about this? With a lower melting temperature, Xerox’s silver can be 3D printed on a wider array of surfaces. Keep in mind, silver can be one of the key elements to circuits, as it is highly conductive.
“With the development of a new silver ink, Xerox scientists have paved the way for commercialization and low-cost manufacturing of printable electronics. Printable electronics offers manufacturers a very low-cost way to add “intelligence” or computing power to a wide range of surfaces such as plastic or fabric.” (Source: Xerox)
Assuming that this silver can be melted onto various surfaces without melting them, we can approach the possibility of 3D printing circuits onto fabrics, plastics, and film. Through Xerox’s breakthrough, we have the potential to 3D print “intelligence” onto a wide variety of products. Let me elaborate.
If a circuit can be placed on a surface, an electrical current can flow through it. This current will be necessary for powering various devices. As you read this article, look around. Imagine placing a miniature-computer on the objects around you. How powerful could this technology be? Small applications such as a “smart” medical cabinet, or a highly efficient kitchen could come about. Fun knick-knacks with electric capabilities will be cheaper & easier to make. This is pretty interesting I suppose, but it’s small. Let’s talk big.
The first potential application I want to discuss might cause you to shake your head. I’m talking about roll-up computers. Imagine having a sales-representative pulling out a computerized display from his or her briefcase. This display would be “rolled” onto the table for a presentation. Prospective clients would see all necessary graphics & visuals from this miniature-roll-up-computer. Sensors are also an application of this technology; imagine having a miniature touch-computer that could be rolled across the table for a presentation. Sound interesting?
Another potential application of this technology would be the creation of PV solar cells at a much less expensive rate. This kind of thing foreshadows a much brighter future within renewable energy. Assuming film would be on the build tray, Xerox’s silver would potentially allow for the fabrication of solar cells! This would be much less expensive in comparison to silicon cells. For an in depth explanation of 3D printed solar cells, check out this article.
(photo credit: Solarinsolation)
The economics of Xerox’s silver ink is one of the most significant aspects presented. This technology is cheap! Currently, silicon is the leader in manufacturing “intelligence” onto various small gadgets and products. This material is expensive, and the process of refining silicon is very daunting. However, Xerox’s new silver “ink” has the potential to dominate silicon in more ways than one; silver ink is much more conductive, it is much less expensive, and it can be applied in thinner layers. The only thing missing for this ink to succeed is industry coverage, and capital.
Similar to the second application, here’s another interesting concept initiated by Aaron Saenz – portable, roll out solar panels. Imagine pulling up to work, rolling out a foldable solar panel on your dashboard, and leaving. You would come back later that afternoon to a charged electric vehicle.
“If we could have printable circuits, what would that mean for the average consumer? Imagine buying a roll of fabric that was also a solar cell surface. Spread like a tarp it could provide portable energy almost anywhere in the world.” (Source: Aaron Saenz)
The same concept could be applied to various devices, for example: water wells associated with irrigation, pump-jacks on oil wells, popup campers, cameras, or anything you use outside that needs power!
Another what-if-question I’d like to pose would be the use of Xerox’s silver ink within Objet’s multi-material printers. Some of Objet’s printers already offer 7 materials in a print; what if Objet added one more material – particularly a material that offers the layer-by-layer creation of circuits? This could lead to the development of gadgets and gizmos that require little to no touching up before use.
All in all, this technology offers no ceiling – it could have unlimited potential. As product developers, engineers, and visionaries work together with this technology, we could be moving into a new world of intelligent products. For this silver ink technology to succeed, we need to do our best to market this breakthrough to the manufacturing powerhouses. Perhaps within the next few years – we could start seeing it come into our everyday lives.
XRCC NanoAg photo credit by Xerox.
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