Voxel8 Reinvents 3D Printing With Embedded Electronics and Conductive Ink


Daniel Oliver, co-founder and business director of Voxel8, will be speaking about 3D printing at ASME’s AM3D conference. Image: Voxel8

Voxel8 is a Massachusetts-based startup looking to change the way the world creates 3D-printed electronics—and it may be on its way to accomplishing that soon thanks to the introduction of a technology that allows devices to be printed in one piece, wires and all.

In July, the company raised $12 million in a Series A round of funding to which several partners including Autodesk contributed.

A month earlier, Voxel8 had been named as one of MIT Technology Review's 50 smartest companies of 2015.

And earlier this year, the company's 3D Electronics Printer was named by Fast Company as one of the top nine best ideas at last February's Consumer Electronics Show (CES).

"If you want to create an electronic device of any sort, you usually have to print the body in pieces, which will jigsaw together and sandwich themselves around the functional components," the publication wrote.

That is not the case with the Voxel8 printer, which can pause automatically during a print to allow for electronic components to be placed inside specially printed cavities. Then, the same machine can print the conductive traces connecting those components before completing the object.

The Voxel8 printer can blend plastics and electronics in the same printed object. Image: Voxel8

That ability to seamlessly streamline the printing of an electronic device is in large part thanks to the company's innovative silver ink.

"There are lots of conductive inks out there, but they tend to be runny, so it's hard to create three-dimensional structures with them," says Daniel Oliver, co-founder and business director of Voxel8.

"Our ink has more the consistency of toothpaste, which gives you a nice filament you can control."

Oliver says competitors' conductive ink often requires post-processing at high heat.

"If you're printing them with materials like thermoplastic, you would ruin the print by baking it," he says. "Our ink has a low cure temperature, which allows you to co-print with another material in a single object."

To go along with Voxel8's conductive ink, Autodesk built a new piece of software—Project Wire—from the ground up, to design and print three-dimensional electronic devices.

Harvard connection

Voxel8 is a fairly young company, having only launched last summer. The 2015 CES event was, according to Oliver, its coming out party.

Voxel8 has demonstrated the capabilities of their printer by building a functioning quadcopter. Image: Voxel8

There, the team debuted its quadcopter. It presented functional 3D-printed versions of the drone, as well as half-printed ones to show off the electronic components and tracings inside.

But even if Voxel8 is young, it is built on years of research.

"Our technology is based on the work of Harvard professor Jennifer Lewis, who spent over a decade creating new materials for 3D printing," Oliver says. "She and a couple members of her lab became interested in rolling out a company, and I got involved through a fellowship offered by Harvard Business School."

Pushing boundaries

Oliver says Voxel8 is focused on adding different dimensions of functionality, whether that means embedding electronics or printing complex microstructures down the line.

"Not only do we want to create interesting materials, but those materials must be able to be printed effectively together," he says.

Currently, the 3D Electronics Printer has two heads: One, a typical fused-deposition modelling (FDM) head, which pushes a reel of hard thermoplastic filament through a hot end, melting and printing it.

"We've coupled that with a direct write print head, using air pressure to force the conductive ink out of a nozzle," Oliver says of the second.

The heads are made so that they can be easily switched out as new types of 3D printing materials emerge.

Voxel8 is looking at developing more materials and quicker print times, with greater add-on functionality like automation processing.

"We're excited to get this product out for innovators to experiment with, and help move it to the next generation so people can start manufacturing products using this technology," Oliver says.

Find out more about Oliver and the 3D Electronics Printer by visiting Voxel8 online.

The new frontier of additive manufacturing can be intimidating to navigate; fortunately, there's the ASME AM3D conference to help guide you as you integrate AM into your business. Learn more about the ASME Additive Manufacturing and 3D Printing Conference and Expo here.

Holly Martin is an independent writer.

Not only do we want to create interesting materials, but those materials must be able to be printed effectively together.

David Oliver


May 2015

by Holly Martin