3D printing integrates actuators and sensors into complex components

July 17, 2019 // By Christoph Hammerschmidt
3D printing integrates actuators and sensors into complex components
By means of additive manufacturing (aka 3D printing), the number of components of complex, individualized assemblies can be greatly reduced and many functions can be integrated directly into a component. The Fraunhofer Institute for Structural Durability and System Reliability LBF (Darmstadt, Germany) shows in several research projects how such actuators and sensors in lightweight structures can reduce disturbing or damaging vibrations and monitor structures.

Based on the results of their research projects, the scientists at Fraunhofer LBF see great potential for the manufacture of mechatronic systems using 3D printing: "Additive manufacturing offers multiple benefits. Sensors can be integrated at critical points that were previously inaccessible. In particular, lightweight structural components can benefit from this," explains Dr. Torsten Bartel, who headed the various projects at Fraunhofer LBF.

In addition, actuators can be individualized in force and installation space in such a way that oversized actuators do not have to be used. This limits the use of materials and electricity to the bare essentials. "After all, electrically conductive materials make it possible to dispense with external signal lines and the corresponding soldering work. In this way, compact, function-integrated systems can be manufactured with minimal assembly effort," emphasizes Bartel.

Several materials are required for the additive manufacture of prototypical mechatronic systems in order to be able to dispense as far as possible with the insertion or bonding of purchased actuators and sensors. Fused filament fabrication (FFF) printers are particularly suitable for this purpose. They are comparatively inexpensive and very flexible in the choice of materials to be processed.

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