Novel materials push manufacturing boundaries

February 08, 2017

From 3D-printed circuit boards and accelerometers to flexible sensors, professor Woo Soo Kim is developing groundbreaking new materials and processes that could transform how we interact with the world around us.

Kim’s research builds on recent advancements in 3D printing. By squeezing out layers of conductive ink instead of plastic, it is now possible to 3D-print electrical components such as circuits or antennas directly into electronic devices.

This one-step production process could allow factories to create new devices faster than ever before, offering a tantalizing glimpse into the future of manufacturing. For example, an entire smartphone production line could be reconfigured simply by rewriting the code that controls the printing system.  

To make this vision a reality, engineering materials experts such as Kim must get creative. In SFU’s Stretchable Devices Laboratory, Kim and his team are working on developing novel printing materials, including functional inks that can solidify rapidly and flow through the printer nozzle without jamming.

The team is also exploring 3D-printed flexible electronics and sensors, which could boost wearable computing – for example, a 3D-printed battery could be created that fits the curves of the user’s body.

Thanks to lowered manufacturing costs and increased flexibility, Kim believes 3D-printed sensors could ultimately become embedded in everything, bringing us one step closer to realizing the Internet of Things.