Additive manufacturing is a revolutionary approach that leveraged direct deposition of materials to yield value-added products. New functional materials compatible with these evolving operations are needed to allow smart surfaces and objects with easily integrated sensing and responsive potentials. To ensure compatibility, materials innovation must be performed in parallel with the development of manufacturing methods.
2D printing is an additive manufacturing operation that offers unique advantages like manufacturing on flexible substrates in large areas with high throughput. Steady evolution in 2D printed electronics has led to enhancements in device performances and has increasingly affected interactive display technologies, effectively improving the human-machine interface. However, the demand to offer increasingly complex, conformal, and stretchable electronics with many functionalities pushes the development of printable materials.
An emerging opportunity is in-mold electronics, a fabrication methodology that depends on 2D printed electronics that can be molded into any shape with thermoforming. Thus, with suitable materials, in-mold electronics offer a strategy to create adaptively and sensing conformal surfaces using additive manufacturing methods, thus improving the interactive experience in automotive, aerospace, and household uses.
To make smart 3D objects directly, what firms need are smart materials. They can exploit fundamental concepts like self-assembly to spatially structure multiple and distinct materials over many length scales. Through new chemistries and the exploitation of controlled self-assembly, many functions may be integrated into objects as they are being printed. With this level of control, interactive, adaptive, intelligent parts can be 3D printed to help the next generation of objects for sectors including automotive, manufacturing, healthcare, and consumer goods. A continuum of morphologies, from functional coatings, gradients, and composites, are created, allowing the fabrication of 3D piezoresistive sensors, 5G antennas, and antimicrobial objects. This method is an example illustrating a promising way forward in integrating dissimilar materials in 3D printing of smart or functional parts.