What if you could manufacture your own smartphones and wearable technology in your basement? What if drones and IoT (Internet of Things) connected devices didn't have to be manufactured in high-tech manufacturing facilities, but could be made in the family garage? Thanks to a newly developed plastic, these far-fetched scenarios could one day be realities.
The Origins of F-Electric
Michael Toutonghi and his son decided to build an electromagnetic propulsion project for the son's science fair at school. Since soldering didn't come easy for Mike, he wanted to use his 3D printer to build the circuits. Yet he couldn't find an adequately conductive material to use. This led him on a nearly obsessive quest studying nanotechnology and materials science. After years of labor, he eventually developed a synthetic mix of graphene, metal, and plastic nano composites. He formed the corporation Functionalize, and is now $6,657 into his goal of $100,000 in crowdsourced funding through the crowdsourcing platform Kickstarter.
How F-Electric Could Fundamentally Change 3D Printing
The differences in his product, F-Electric, from similar conductive plastics that are available for 3D printing are its high conductivity, low price, and easy workability. Most 3D printing materials offer a resistance of between 1,000 and 10,000 ohm-cm. Comparatively, F-Electric features less than 1 ohm-cm of resistance. Additionally, it costs around $140 per pound (32-cents per gram), compared to other 3D printing products that run about 15-cents per gram, but provide thousands of times less conductivity. F-Electric also works well in any of the low-end PLA 3D printers.
The Future of F-Electric
For now, Toutonghi and others who have worked with F-Electric have produced relatively unremarkable products like LED flashlights. However, executives of Functionalize say that they have only begun to scratch the surface when it comes to the potential of F-Electric.
In time, users will have the ability to manufacture high-tech gadgets, tools, and computers affordably and quickly using low-end 3D printers and the affordable F-Electric material. At the moment, F-Electric is capable of giving home users the ability to print the inner workings of a computer such as the Raspberry Pi, but not the housing for the device.
Of course, users will have to lean on some type of CAD system to design and simulate their products before manufacturing, which could drive up the cost of making nifty electronic gadgets at home. Being able to manufacture an electromechanical connection with a 3D printer and knowing how those connections should work within the device are two separate issues when it comes to non-professional users.
F-Electric and Functionalize do have at least one competitor, Graphine 3D. Grahphine 3D recently filed for a patent on their 3D printer generated batteries. However, Functionalize's product offers greater conductivity at a more affordable price, which should give them the edge in the competitive marketplace.
Most 3D printers can also use actual metals, instead of synthetic plastics with conductive properties. Metals commonly used in 3D printers are copper, gold, aluminum, and bronze. The benefits of F-Electric is that it is resistant to corrosion and is more affordable than most soft metals that lend well to 3D printing.
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