Researchers from the University of Michigan have achieved a new first in 3D printing. First off, by modifying a run of the mill inexpensive 3D printer, they have achieved printing of electronics directly on the skin. This new technology could be extremely useful for soldiers before going onto the battlefield. Temporary sensors could be 3D printed directly on the skin in order to detect biological or chemical agents or even possibly solar cells to charge their electronics.
The same researchers have also been able to 3D print biological material on the wound of a mouse. This would be very useful for treating skin wounds or being able to print grafts directly on the skin for disorders.
“We are excited about the potential of this new 3D-printing technology using a portable, lightweight printer costing less than $400,” said Michael McAlpine, the study’s lead author and the University of Minnesota Benjamin Mayhugh Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering. “We imagine that a soldier could pull this printer out of a backpack and print a chemical sensor or other electronics they need, directly on the skin. It would be like a ‘Swiss Army knife’ of the future with everything they need all in one portable 3D printing tool.”
A very interesting developing new technique was invented to ensure that no matter what shape and movement of the hand or body part being printed on, it will always print correctly. This is because markers are placed on the skin and the computer vision of the printer is able to track the person's body movements to ensure no mistakes are made.
“No matter how hard anyone would try to stay still when using the printer on the skin, a person moves slightly and every hand is different,” McAlpine said. “This printer can track the hand using the markers and adjust in real-time to the movements and contours of the hand, so printing of the electronics keeps its circuit shape.”
Another innovation was made with the ink being used to print on the skin. The new ink has a silver flake mixed in, that when printed onto the skin will cure and conduct at room temperature. Previously, inks used in other research requires much higher temperatures to cure, thus this would burn the skin or hand and would not be a viable solution.
Once the person is finished with the 3D printed electronics tattoo, they can then peel it off and wash away. Very simple indeed.
“I’m fascinated by the idea of printing electronics or cells directly on the skin,” McAlpine said. “It is such a simple idea and has unlimited potential for important applications in the future.”
Michael C. McAlpine. Benjamin Mayhugh Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering was the study’s lead author, teamed up with University of Minnesota Department of Pediatrics doctor and medical school Dean Jakub Tolar, a world-renowned expert on treating rare skin disease.
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