3D printing: Your flexible friend

THE relentless march of three-dimensional printing continues. What started as a way of making prototypes by depositing layers of material in a manner reminiscent of inkjet printing is now becoming a real industrial technique. But it is also popular with hobbyists of the “” movement of small-scale amateur inventors.One thing makers would dearly love to do is cheaply ape the recently developed ability to print with sophisticated and costly machines. And a project led by Simon and his colleagues at the University of Warwick, in Britain, the results of which have just been published in the Public Library of Science, may let them do just that.Industrial-scale printing of 3D electrical circuits is still experimental. It uses exotic “inks” based on silver and carbon nanotubes. Dr Leigh has managed something similar with a hobbyist’s and ink made of carbon black and polyester.Carbon black is, basically, a flashy name for soot. It is made by the incomplete combustion of heavy petroleum products such as tar. It is, though, electrically conductive. By adding granules of polyester Dr Leigh creates the uncooked version of a material he calls carbomorph. The cooked version is what is extruded by his , a commercially available machine of the type beloved by makers.This particular type of 3D works by extruding a…

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