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3D printing (or additive manufacturing) refers to a process in which a 3D printer is used for stacking layers of material under computer control, following a 3D model (or other electronic data source), resulting in a printed three-dimensional object.

ORDbot Quantum 3D printer photo

Various applications for 3D printing include design visualization and prototyping, metal casting, architecture, education, healthcare, entertainment and more. As 3D printing technology continues to evolve and develop, researchers imply possible biotechnological uses like bio-printing and computer-aided tissue engineering as well as retail manufacturing of custom end products which might change the face of commerce.

A large number of 3D printing processes exist nowadays, differing mainly in their methods of layering and the materials that are used. Some methods melt or soften material to produce layers while others use liquid materials or thin layers of material that are cut to shape and joined together. 3D printing materials are varied, and include Thermoplastics, HDPE, Rubber, edible materials, clay, metal alloy, and more. New technologies, such as infusing carbon fibers into plastics, allow for a stronger, lighter material.

Graphene, a single-atomic layer of carbon atoms arranged in a hexagonal lattice, is repeatedly dubbed a “wonder material” due to its immense array of uncanny properties like extraordinary conductivity, flexibility and transparency.

Graphene-enhanced nanocomposite materials greatly improve traditional materials used in 3D printing, like plastics. Graphene nanoplatelets that are added to polymers make materials that are mechanically stronger and with improved thermal and electrical conductivity.

Graphene 3D Labs logoGraphene 3D Lab, a joint-venture between Graphene Labs and Lomiko Metals, is one of the leaders in this new market. The company's founder and COO, Dr. Elena Polyakova comments in an interview for Graphene-info on the advantages of graphene-based materials over current 3D printing materials: “Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF) -- a method of 3D printing in which filament is extruded layer by layer to create objects -- capabilities are currently bound by the offerings of filaments, which generally includes non-functional thermoplastics. While such plastics are great for printing desktop models and fascinating gadgets, the real-world applications of printing with such filaments by themselves are limited. By creating a line of materials with functional properties, the capabilities of FFF 3D printers will be greatly expanded.

By way of example, filaments infused with graphene can be conductive and much more durable than non-specialized filaments, features which are necessary for a host of applications. We also intend to develop filaments with other functional properties, including magnetic capabilities.” as per Dr. Polyakova's words, Graphene 3D Lab is funded to begin production of printing filaments in the near future, and is working towards a target of reaching commercial production around the first half of 2015.

Graphene 3D Labs also plans to produce 3D printable batteries, based on graphene. These batteries can potentially outperform current commercial batteries, and will come in shapes and sizes that can be tailored to match the designs of specific devices. The company already unveiled a prototype battery in October 2014. In March 2015 G3L announced that it has launched commercial sales of its conductive graphene filament for 3D printing. The filament incorporates highly conductive proprietary nanocarbon materials to enhance the properties of PLA, a widely used thermoplastic material for 3D printing. The filament is therefore compatible with most commercially available 3D printers. In June 2015, the company announced the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with Ideum, a company which develops large-scale smart-tables and walls. The agreement lays the foundation for joint research, product development, and marketing between the two companies. Graphene 3D and Ideum will evaluate and co-develop products by Graphene 3D which can be used as capacitive sensors to interface with Ideum's products. Graphene 3D will also begin commercial on-demand 3D printing of coasters, joysticks, and styluses which Ideum clients can use to interact with their smart-tables. For example, styluses of various shapes, 3D printed in Conductive Graphene Filament, may be used as brushes used in photo editing software to give a more hands-on feel to creative work done on an Ideum smart-table.

In May 2015, researchers at Northwestern University designed a method to print 3D structures using graphene nanoflakes, by developing a graphene-based ink that can be used to print large, robust 3D structures. This fast and efficient method may open up new opportunities for using graphene printed scaffolds and various other electronic or medical applications. Also in May 2015, researchers at Michigan Technological University progressed in their work to 3D print replacement nerves using 3D bioprinting techniques. The team has developed polymer materials that can act as a scaffold for growing tissues and is working on integrating graphene as the electrical conductor.

In March 2015, U.S-based Local Motors declared plans to 3D print vehicles within 12 hours, reinforcing extruded printed material with graphene. The company reported significant progress in its additive manufacturing technology since it unveiled its Strati vehicle. The company was looking to reduce the print time to 12 hours, with a four to five-hour assembly time, and had been speaking to a Korean firm about sourcing graphene for extruding in composite 3D printing materials.

In July 2014, US-based Graphene Technologies announced a partnership with Stratasys to co-develop graphene-enhanced 3D printing materials.

A 12X12 meter 3D graphene-fiberglass printer was unveiled by Qingdao Unique Products Develop during a trade show in China. It is meant to print building in the future, according to the company, using a fiberglass-graphene composite that will allow the creation of very strong objects.

Qingdao 40x40 foot 3D printer photo

Grafoid, a Canadian based company, signed an agreement with Altamat to construct an atomization facility to produce MesoGraf graphene-based powders and filaments for 3D printing for use in a wide range of functionalized powders for 3D printing applications. Grafoid hopes to supply a wide range of Mesograf-based powders and filaments that will allow manufacturing companies in every industry to utilize additive manufacturing processes to produce their end products on demand, not solely for prototyping purposes.

Australian company 3D Graphtech Industries, established by CSIRO organization to investigate research opportunities in 3D printing using graphite and graphene inks, will jointly perform a white-paper study to identify technological problems in the 3D printing market that can be solved in an R&D program to provide a commercial solution.

US based AGT launched a similar research project in collaboration with Ukraine's Kharkiv Institute of Physics and Technology ("KIPT").

Further reading

Latest graphene 3D printing news

Haydale's revenues increase 90% in H1 FY2016, updates on various graphene projects

Mar 23, 2017

Haydale logoUK-based Haydale announced its unaudited results for the six months ended 31 December 2016, or H1 FY2016. Total income was £1.5 million (up 90% from H1 2015) and the loss was £2.4 million (up from £1.9 million in H1 2015).

Haydale also provided some interesting update. The company signed a joint development agreement with Hunsman in Novermber 2016, and Haydale now says that Huntsman announced strong initial test results from Haydale's graphene enhanced Araldite resins in thermal management. Haydale's Thailand subsidiary also announced two new small contacts - one from the Thai Ministry of Energy for a printed hybrid functionalized graphene electrode in a supercapacitor and another from IRPC, a leading Thai petrochemical chemical processor.

Graphene 3D Lab adds graphene-silver epoxy to its G6-Epoxy product line

Feb 28, 2017

Graphene 3D Labs logoGraphene 3D Lab, a leader in the development, manufacturing and marketing of proprietary composites and coatings based on graphene and other advanced materials, has announced an addition to its G6-Epoxy line of adhesives. This new product, G6E-GSTMepoxy, is a highly electrically conductive adhesive based on the combination of graphene and silver additives. It reportedly has a volume resistivity as low as 0.0001 Ω·cm and can be cured at room temperature or more rapidly at elevated temperatures. G6E-GSTM bonds well to a wide variety of substrates including metals, composites, ceramics, and glass.

The graphene filler is said to enhance the electrical conductivity of the epoxy and prevent the propagation of cracks, improving the material’s durability and fatigue resistance. This is especially important when bonding dissimilar materials subjected to rapid temperature variations. This feature improves impact resistance of the bond and also helps mitigate potential damage caused by vibration.

Graphene Oxide market report

Metalysis to soon commercialize a novel graphene production process

Feb 08, 2017

Metalysis logoMetalysis, a UK-based company focused on commercializing its proprietary electrochemical metal powder manufacturing technology, announced that it has successfully synthesized graphene using its process, with commercialization targeted towards 2017.

It was said that single-layer sheets of graphene have been synthesized at Metalysis’ industrial processing facilities, as well as bilayer and low multi-layer amalgamations. Metalysis stated that “Producing graphene could enable Metalysis to add new, lucrative markets to those it is already serving; markets in which our arrival could be highly disruptive when global product demand is considered against the sheer amount of graphene we could produce in conjunction with our Gen 4, and later Gen 5 modular expansions,” Vaughan said. “Gen 5, by way of illustration, envisages scaling up production capability for highly profitable niche multi-metal powders to thousands of tonnes per annum.”

MIT team uses graphene to create ultra-strong 3D materials

Jan 08, 2017

Researchers at MIT have designed a strong and lightweight material, by compressing and fusing flakes of graphene. The new material, a sponge-like configuration with a density of just 5%, can have a strength 10 times that of steel. This work could pose an interesting way of transforming graphene into useful 3D objects and items.MIT created superstrong graphene 3D material image

The team developed the product by using a combination of both heat and pressure, compressing and fusing the flakes of graphene together. This process produced a strong, stable structure whose form resembles that of some corals and microscopic creatures called diatoms. These shapes, which have an enormous surface area in proportion to their volume, proved to be remarkably strong.

Graphene 3D Lab unveils new graphene-enhanced filament for 3D printing

Nov 13, 2016

Graphene 3D Lab, a leader in the development, manufacturing and marketing of proprietary composites and coatings based on graphene and other advanced materials, recently unveiled a new product developed from the G6-Impact material while presenting at the Graphene Malaysia 2016 Conference.

Graphene 3D Lab's new 3D printing filament image

The new Graphene/Carbon Fiber based FDM filament will be marketed as "G6-ImpactTM filament". The G6-Impact filament will feature semi-rigidness prints with outstanding vibration damping and shock absorbing properties. The G6-ImpactTM filament will be targeted towards engineers and professional 3D printing users interested in the areas of vibration damping, thermoformed parts, and printing models or prototypes for use in the automotive, construction, robotics, or aerospace industry.