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.

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

Liquid X and Bonbouton to collaborate on graphene-enhanced textile-based sensors

Liquid X Printed Metals, an advanced material manufacturer of functional metallic inks, has announced a collaboration effort with Bonbouton (a company focused on developing thermal sensing applications using a smart textile platform) to build graphene-enhanced temperature and pressure sensors directly on textiles using additive manufacturing techniques.

Through Bonbouton's inkjet-printable graphene technology, licensed from the Stevens Institute of Technology, the Company is developing thin and mechanically flexible sensors for wearable physiology monitoring. This gives consumers wearable personal health options that are unobtrusive, comfortable and attractive, while still enabling the collection of accurate, precise and useful data.

A new method may enable 3D printing complex structures with graphene

Researchers from Virginia Tech and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have developed a new way to 3D print with graphene. Graphene has previously been used in extrusion-based processes to print single sheets and basic structures at a resolution of around 100 microns, but this latest research shows it is also possible to use a stereolithography-based technique to print “pretty much any desired structure” down to 10 microns, close to the size of actual graphene sheets. The ability to 3D print functional parts in graphene could benefit many industries and products.

Graphene aerogel for 3d printing image

“Now a designer can design three-dimensional topology comprised of interconnected graphene sheets,” said Xiaoyu “Rayne” Zheng, assistant professor with the Department of Mechanical Engineering in the College of Engineering and director of the Advanced Manufacturing and Metamaterials Lab. “This new design and manufacturing freedom will lead to optimization of strength, conductivity, mass transport, strength, and weight density that are not achievable in graphene aerogels.”

The Graphene Handbook

Graphematech and Add North 3D develop novel graphene-enhanced 3D printing filaments

A collaboration between two innovative material technology startups Graphmatech and Add North 3D (a Swedish 3D materials developer specialized in FDM materials) has developed novel conductive Aros Graphene-based filaments for 3D printing. This may open up many new different 3D-printing applications such as thermal management components, circuit boards and efficient electromagnetic and radio frequency shielding.

The recently developed 3D-printing technology based on Graphematech's Aros Graphene may grant the ability to control the exact level of conductivity of the filament. The new filaments will now be optimized and go through beta testing with a reference group before it is expected to reach the market in 6-12 month.

Graphematech develops a simple, scalable method for coating polymer powder and granular with a layer of Aros Graphene

Sweden-based Graphematech, a startup company that develops and sells novel graphene-based nanocomposite materials and services, has announced the development of a scalable method for coating polymer powder and granular with a layer of its Aros Graphene. The Company sees this is a major boost to the polymer composites industry.

Graphematech develops a simple and scalable method for coating polymer powder and granular with a layer of Aros Graphene image

This newly developed method is said to be very efficient for obtaining high quality dispersion of Aros Graphene additive inside a polymer matrix without the use of high shear forces in melt mixing. It enormously reduces production costs and minimizes property degradation for both the polymer matrix and the additive while maintaining high quality and homogeneous composite. The invented method can be also applied for coating polymer powder with different materials such as metals, ceramics, fibers, cellulose and more.

NUS team develops novel technique for mass production of graphene

A research team led by the National University of Singapore (NUS) and conducted in collaboration with Fudan University has developed an economical and industrially viable strategy to produce graphene. The new technique may offer a way for efficient large-scale production of graphene, to pave the way for sustainable synthesis of the material.

The conventional method of producing graphene utilizes sound energy or shearing forces to exfoliate graphene layers from graphite, and then dispersing the layers in large amounts of organic solvent. As insufficient solvent causes the graphene layers to reattach themselves back into graphite, yielding one kilogram of graphene currently requires at least one tonne of organic solvent, making the method costly and environmentally unfriendly.