There’s been a lot of talk in recent months about 3D – and even 4D – printing. We all know that we can now print 3D ceramic “mini-mes” of ourselves in the middle of the weekly grocery shop, but the latest development in the technology is a little more practical.
Designed by an Australian start-up, Cartesian, the EX¹ printer is a desktop device that prints electronics and circuit boards as quickly as you can print a photo. The EX¹ launched on crowd-funding site Kickstarter today and aims to raise $30,000 AUD (£17,556) to help them develop the technology further.
Created by a group of engineering students, the 3D circuit board printer uses inkjet technology to print designs in elemental silver onto a range of different surfaces with a print area of 17.5cm x 8cm. By doing so, users can quickly and easily print complex circuits for anything from gamepad remote controls to wearable technology.
"We want to change the way people think about electronics, the same way as 3D printers changed the way we think about making physical objects," said Isabella Stephens, a Cartesian co-founder. "Until now making circuits at home has been a frustrating and time-consuming process often involving lots of chemicals, but with the EX¹ you have the freedom to instantly test your ideas without the monotony of making a PCB by hand, the time spent wiring it on a breadboard or the days spent waiting to get your design back from a board house".
The EX¹ printer is not designed to create 3D objects like normal 3D printers. The device has two inkjet cartridges which print onto the substrate (a base material) in a similar way to how the average printer you have sitting in your office now might print a design from a word document.
However, the ink that the EX¹ lays down is fundamentally different; it imprints two chemicals onto any material - whether plastic, glass, wood, ceramic, silicone or even fabric – which then mix together and produce silver nano particles, leaving a silver image behind on the substrate.
By allowing users to create a design on a variety of surfaces and send it to the EX¹ just by clicking File > Print, the EX¹ allows an increased level of creativity for those wishing to experiment with electronics.
Weighing around 6kg, the printer claims to give users control over every printing variable. This makes it a useful tool for everyone from everyday users wishing to experiment with the technology, to experienced electronics professionals who are trying to break boundaries with new tools.
Those who pledge $5 (£2.92) will be contributing towards the development of the technology, with Cartesian claiming that they’ve “only scratched the surface of what is possible using it”. The most generous beneficiaries wishing to donate $7,000 (£4,096) will be invited for an Australian picnic in the park with the founders, “launching rockets, flying quadcopters, and all the other fun stuff we love to do”.