A revolution in 3-D printing

Popular Mechanics’ Editor’s Choice Awards for CES 2015 include a “fit” watch, bike pedals with GPS plus anti-theft detection, underwater speakers, and a “smart” tennis racquet.  But the real game-changer, the item that will have the biggest effect on all our lives during the next ten years, is the Voxel8's 3D Electronics Printer.  Aided by Autodesk’s Private Wire software, this tabletop 3D printer can fabricate three-dimensional circuit boards in minutes rather than weeks.

From the Popular Mechanics article and VentureBeat:

The Voxel8's 3D Electronics Printer, just announced at CES, is the first that can print both plastic and conductive material, allowing circuitry and the physical structure of an object to be printed simultaneously. The technology comes from research done at Harvard by Jennifer Lewis, one of Voxel8's founder.

Voxel8 prints in two materials using two nozzles. The object itself is made of PLA, a common plastic in 3D printing, while the circuitry is made of silver ink, which comes out of a pneumatic nozzle at room temperature and dries within minutes. That means one part can be added to another in the middle of the printing process; the printer bed can be removed and put back in once the parts are aligned. Printing will start where it left off, following instructions from a design file made in Autodesk's Project Wire, a new software made specifically for Voxel8's printer. In the software, designers add electronic components to existing CAD files and then wire the components in three dimensions.

Voxel8 will start shipping printers at the end of 2015. For $9,000, including a $500 deposit now, you can be among the first to receive a "standard" model. All models will come with PLA and conductive-silver inks. Eventually, Voxel8 engineers hope to add the ability to print resistors, stretchable electronics, and lithium-ion batteries.

From Autodesk’s Private Wire we read:

Circuit prototyping can be done incredibly quickly using Project Wire with the Voxel8 printer. Even more exciting is the ability to design and fabricate circuits that were not previously possible. Wires can be routed in three dimensions to make compact circuits in arbitrary 3D shapes, components can be embedded inside prints to create very robust devices, and each circuit can be customized entirely.

One of the key innovations from Voxel8 is an extremely conductive silver material and deposition system. Voxel8 is co-founded by renowned Harvard University Professor Jennifer A. Lewis, who has spent over a decade developing materials and methods for functional 3D printing. Voxel8's conductive silver material is over 1000 times more conductive than anything available today.

So what does this mean to the readers of American Thinker?

Let’s say you have a large sprinkler and drip system in your front and back yards.  In a couple of years, with the ability to create custom chips, you can design your own timers to water your plants and monitor the water usage.  You could also create your own custom alarms, tying together several different alarms from different manufacturers into a single system.  You could build your own drones, increase the efficiency of your HVAC, create custom TV and audio systems, and set up personal computer networks that are virtually hack-proof.

Small business owners will be able to create custom “smart” chips that run their printers, paint-sprayers, cow-milking machines, auto diagnostics, restaurant inventory, and computer peripherals.  The list is endless for almost any specific operation that can be automated and monitored.

Prototyping and creating anything that uses a circuit board will take hours instead of weeks.  Custom electronics devices for medical diagnostics will come online years quicker (if the FDA bureaucrats don’t screw it up).  Replacement parts with a circuit, such as those used in appliances, cars, houses, motors, pumps, farms, and manufacturing, will become available faster and cheaper.

Pretty great, huh?

However, I fear that the federal government will want to register and license these 3D printers like guns and cars.  And along with registration, the inputs and outputs from these printers, the new intellectual designs, and the physical products may be closely monitored and heavily taxed.  

Let us work toward reducing the Orwellian mentality of our current administration so that we all can reap the rewards of this fantastic 21st-century innovation.