DIM3NSION 3D Printing are one of the companies in the UK committed to providing the best quality 3D Printed parts in Conductive and ESD Safe Plastics. But what does it all mean, and could it in fact be suitable for your application?
Plastic parts that conduct electricity are neither common nor used extensively in applications where they could provide a significant cost saving over their metal counterparts. Before delving into these applications, it is first important to understand the differences between the terms Conductive, ESD Safe and Anti-Static. The most simplistic way to categorise these is on a rolling scale of Resistivity, or in other words how much they restrict the flow of Electricity.
Anti-Static plastic is no phenomenon in Industry, this has been used for a number of years in applications such as Food Packaging Conveyor Lines to prevent sparks and potential fire ignition points. Anti-Static Polyethylene is a good, low-cost example of this. Resistance wise, Anti-Static material is generally considered to have a resistance of 10^9 to 10^12 ohms, in essence one rung more conductive than a pure electrical insulator.
Next, there are ESD Safe (Electrostatically Dissipative) plastics. These materials are common in Electro-Mechanical assembly lines to prevent damage to sensitive electronic components. Humans feel a short electric shock from 3000 Volts up; electronics and semi-conductors on the other hand can be affected by voltages lower than 100 Volts, hence why it is important that they are protected. However, this level of protection is pricey. ESD Safe Plastics commonly carry a massive cost, not to mention the time needed to Machine this into a product. The cost advantage of being able to 3D Print this material is extensive, due to the additive method limiting material waste. The Electrical resistance of ESD Safe materials are in the region of 10^6 to 10^9 ohms, hence more conductive than Anti-Static materials.
Conductive materials are categorised by possessing a Resistance lower than 10^6 ohms. The recent ability to 3D Print plastics beneath this Resistance threshold can definitely be described as a phenomena. Conductive plastics are set to benefit a variety of applications.
Conductive Plastics- Applications
In essence; 3D Printed Conductive plastics suit bespoke, low-voltage circuitry applications.
Wearable Electronics is a booming industry in today’s market and is set to be a massive beneficiary of custom 3D Printed Conductive plastic parts. The durable, lightweight and flexible properties of Conductive plastics is a perfect match for this industry.
Capacitive Sensors such as those found in laptop trackpads, controllers and keyboards are also set to benefit. The uses of Capacitive Sensors are almost endless- they can measure acceleration, humidity, proximity, position and fluid levels. Therefore, imagine having the freedom to design them in any desired or imaginable shape, this is the liberty that 3D printed Conductive plastics offers.
Using 3D Printed Conductive plastics also lends itself to being an effective Electromagnetic and Radio Frequency Shield. These can be highly customised solutions for a range of industries including Telecommunications, Hospital Equipment, Faraday Enclosures etc.
This is not to say that these Conductive plastic parts are a like-for-like replacement for Metal components in all applications (the resistance of metal components such as Iron and Copper remain lower than Conductive Plastics). However, 3D Printed Conductive plastics can certainly begin to take over from their metal counterparts in many applications, as they offer greater levels of customisation, weight saving and affordability.