Using graphene as a 3D printing material is a very hot topic lately, with many companies attempting to unlock this market - including Graphene 3D Lab, Graphene Technologies, Grafoid, AGT, Qingdao Unique Products and others.
Graphene 3D Lab, a joint-venture between Graphene Labs and Lomiko Metals which recently went public in Canada, is one of the leaders in this new market. The company's founder and COO, Dr. Elena Polyakova, was kind enough to explain the company's technology and business and answer a few questions I had.
Q: Graphene 3D Lab was launched in November 2013. Can you update us on the company's current status?
Graphene 3D Lab (Graphene 3D) was launched in September of 2013 as a spinout of Graphene Laboratories. Both companies are co-located within a facility in Calverton, with each occupying their own administrative and laboratory spaces. Also, both companies maintain well-established R&D programs.
The R&D and pilot production facilities of Graphene 3D are undergoing continuous expansion in terms of our team, equipment, laboratory space, and production capabilities. We are pleased to have produced bench-top samples of functional devices using our 3D printing materials, which open up a range of possibilities in both the near and long term.
Q: What are 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.
Q: Will this require different 3D printers or will you able to use existing printers?
Graphene-enhanced 3D printing materials have the capability of being used in the current generation of at home 3D printers. We have proven this concept by printing bench-top samples of operational objects in which the conductive tracks are manufactured using our graphene-enhanced materials.
However, that is not to say that it is possible to take full advantage of these materials with the current generation of desktop 3D printers. While it is a huge plus that these materials can be used today, we expect that to get the most of out of graphene, we will be required to build a full ecosystem around 3D printing with advanced printing materials. This would include printers with software and hardware which is tuned to the parameters of printing with graphene as well as non-specialized printing materials.
Q: What kind of applications do you see for your materials?
In the near term, there are many application areas which are already developing and would be greatly complimented by the ability to print with graphene. For example, 3D printing is making waves in the area of prosthetics by allowing for inexpensive, personalized artificial limbs and implants. Graphene is known for its lightweight and superior strength, making it an ideal material to be used in prosthetics. With 3D printing materials which are enhanced by graphene, we may see a new generation of durable, lightweight prosthetics.
In high-end electronics, conductive graphene-infused 3D printing materials may allow manufacturers to print end-products in a one step process. They can print not only the mechanical structure, but also integrated circuit layouts and heat-dissipation structures with the push of a button.
To be more ambitious about the long-term possibilities, I imagine 3D printing with graphene may be the “missing link” to achieve a true Internet of Things -- where everyday objects transmit and receive data in a way which allows people to interact with their environment in novel ways. The difficulty in achieving an Internet of Things is that it requires simple objects to have embedded electronics, which means lots of wiring. This is an expensive process. However, with the ability to print not only an object, but its circuitry, simultaneously, the concept may be much more achievable.
Q: When will the 3D Printing material be ready for production? When should we expect commercialization of your graphene-based 3D printing materials?
Graphene 3D Lab is funded to begin production of our filaments in the near future. In fact, we are working towards a target of 6 months to commercial production, and we will certainly keep Graphene-Info readers up to date on any news related to commercialization.
Q: Graphene 3D Lab is now trading online. Can you update us on your financial status? Will you require more funds raising in the future?
We are very pleased to have completed a Reverse Takeover, which allows our company to trade on the Canadian TSX-V stock exchange under the symbol V.GGG. We are considering future funding, and will again keep readers of Graphene Info up to date regarding any investment opportunities.
Q: Is the business model of Graphene 3D Lab the sale of materials? Will you also move up in the supply chain?
While our established goals certainly include the sale of materials, they also includes the sale of printers as well as the development of an Applications Laboratory. This will allow consumers to request us to 3D print end-goods for them, using our advanced materials and proprietary technologies.
Our primary goal, however, is the development of an advanced manufacturing ecosystem. This can be accomplished by offering a broad selection of functional and non-functional 3D printable materials in conjunction with the hardware and software necessary for end-users to create operational devices.
Q: There are several other companies with research activities towards graphene 3D printing. What makes your project unique?
Other companies declarations of intent to become involved in this space is a good sign that there is a lot of interest in and an active need for such a product. Our team of electrical and mechanical engineers, chemists, and materials scientists is what makes us unique; it is also why we have made strides both in printing benchtop samples of functional devices using our filaments, and in intellectual property. In fact, our company holds IP related to multimaterial printing with advanced materials, including graphene-enhanced filaments -- technology of which we are excited to continue to pursue.
Thank you Elena, and good luck to both you and Graphene 3D Lab!