Article last updated on: Jan 25, 2019

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.

The latest graphene 3D printing news:

Haydale launches next-gen graphene-enhanced 3D printing materials

A few years ago, several graphene producers released 3D printing materials enhanced with graphene. These materials enabled conductive non-metal materials, and enhanced the mechanical and thermal properties of these 3D printing filaments.

The market reaction, though, to these materials was cool. The materials did not provide a significant improvement, the price was high, and there were better alternatives available.

Researchers use 3D printing to make graphene aerogel flow-through electrodes for electrochemical reactors

Scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) are 3D printing graphene aerogel flow-through electrodes (FTEs), core components of electrochemical reactors used for converting CO2 and other molecules to useful products.

 LLNL optimizes flow-through electrodes for electrochemical reactors with 3D printing image

Benefiting from the design freedom afforded by 3D printing, the researchers demonstrated they could tailor the flow in FTEs, dramatically improving mass transfer – the transport of liquid or gas reactants through the electrodes and onto the reactive surfaces. The work opens the door to establishing 3D printing as a “viable, versatile rapid-prototyping method” for flow-through electrodes and as a promising pathway to maximizing reactor performance, according to researchers.

3D printed graphene reinforced concrete trials to begin in train station

HS2 London tunnels contractor Skanska Costain Strabag JV (SCS JV) is to pioneer the on-site of 3D printing of graphene-reinforced concrete. The technology, called ‘Printfrastructure’, promises to bring big environmental benefits and cost savings, if deployed more widely.

First proof of concept trials are scheduled to begin in the spring, using 5 tonne computer-operated robots. These will initially be used to build part of the retaining walls for the mainline out of Euston station as well as materials stores on the project.

Researchers develop graphene aerosol gel inks for printing micro-supercapacitors

Researchers from Kansas State University, led by Suprem Das, assistant professor of industrial and manufacturing systems engineering, in collaboration with Christopher Sorensen, university distinguished professor of physics, have shown potential ways to manufacture graphene-based nano-inks for additive manufacturing of supercapacitors in the form of flexible and printable electronics.

The team’s work could be adapted to integrate supercapacitors to overcome the slow-charging processes of batteries. Furthermore, Das has been developing additive manufacturing of small supercapacitors — called micro-supercapacitors — so that one day they could be used for wafer-scale integration in silicon processing.

University at Buffalo team 3D prints graphene aerogels for water treatment

University at Buffalo (UB) researchers have developed a novel 3D printed water-purifying graphene aerogel that could be scaled for use at large wastewater treatment plants.

UB's 3D printed ultra-light G-PDA-BSA aerogel imageUB's 3D printed ultra-light G-PDA-BSA aerogel. Image credit: UB and 3dprintingindustry.com

Composed of aerogel graphene and two bio-inspired polymers, the novel material is reportedly capable of removing dyes, metals and organic solvents from drinking water with 100% efficiency. Unlike similar nanosheets, the scientists’ design is reusable, doesn’t leave residue and can be 3D printed into larger sizes. The team now plans to commercialize its design for industrial-scale deployment.