Finnish company Etteplan and EOS, the world’s leading technology supplier in the field of industrial 3D printing of metals and polymers, have succeeded in 3D printing metal objects with embedded electronics in a way that enables mass production. This technology has enormous potential in the manufacturing industry.
The first printed demo device has an integrated circuit board with sensors, and the metal shell of the piece acts as an antenna. To date, this kind of solution has been regarded as challenging, if not impossible, for conventional technology.
“Industrial 3D printing of metal is not a new thing, as various parts of industrial production equipment are already being 3D-printed around the world. Additionally, electronics can be placed inside the 3D printed objects, when they are made of plastic, for example. Metal powder-bed fusion printing, on the other hand, requires such high temperatures that the electronics have not been able to withstand it. Now we have succeeded in keeping the electronics in good working order even when 3D-printed in metal,” says Tero Leppänen, Director from Etteplan’s Software and Embedded Solutions service area.
There is a vast range of possible use-cases for 3D printed metal objects with embedded intelligence. The technology could find its use in applications where the placement of sensors is currently difficult or operating conditions are such that the sensors would not withstand them on their own.
“One example is a lifting hook, which may include sensors in the future. The sensors notify increased weight, track fatigue, and measure external forces. This data can then be used to predict the need for maintenance or to estimate the device’s lifespan,” says Vesa Saastamoinen, Project Manager at Etteplan. In the current 3D printed demo device, the embedded electronics consist of sensors tracking acceleration, temperature, air pressure, and air humidity.
The breakthrough was made possible by an interdisciplinary development team, with experts from various fields. Etteplan has been investing in engineering for additive manufacturing know-how and experimenting for years. Now the engineering skills of Etteplan’s international organization combined with EOS manufacturing knowledge lead the way to this ground-breaking 3D printing success.