An approach that extends the use of 3D printers to 3D electronics for future robotics and Internet of Things applications. Credits: Waseda University

New Metal-plastic hybrid 3D printing technique is unveiled

Researchers from Waseda University, Japan, generated this metal-plastic hybrid method that prints 3D pieces using catalyst-loaded filament and electroless plating. In general, the proposed hybrid 3D printing technology has several advantages, such as:

  • Area-selective metallization
  • Compatibility with regular FFF 3D printing
  • No damage to the printed structure
  • Environmental friendliness

The WU professor leading this study, explains their main purpose:

“Even though 3D printers let us create 3D structures from metal and plastic, most of the objects we see around us are a combination of both, including electronic devices. Thus, we thought we’d be able to expand the applications of conventional 3D printers if we managed to use them to create 3D objects made of both metal and plastic.” 

– Shinjiro Umezu, professor Waseda University, Japan. Source: Additive Manufacturing.

How this hybrid 3D printing technology works

Basically, the new technology is capable of metalizing selected areas of 3D printed pieces made of ABS. While one of the dual nozzles is used to extrude standard ABS, the second one extrudes ABS loaded with palladium chloride (PdCl2). Then, the 3D printed structure is directly immersed in a nickel electroless plating bath. Finally, we obtain this plastic object with a metallic coating over selected areas only.

Using a fused filament fabrication (FFF) 3D printer, scientists load specific areas of the 3D object with PdCl2

Using a fused filament fabrication (FFF) 3D printer, scientists load specific areas of the 3D object with PdCl2. hybrid 3d printing
Figure: 3D-printed ABS structures obtained using different catalyzation methods. (A) Conventional method shown in Fig. 1A: immersion in Pd ion solution (two-step PdCl2/SnCl2 catalyzation). The double-sided arrow indicates the depth of immersion. (B) Area-selective catalyzation: pasting ABS and PdCl2 mixture acetone solution through a nozzle with air pressure. (C) Area-selective catalyzation: pasting PdCl2-loaded ABS through FFF 3D printer using a PdCl2-loaded ABS filament. The left images are those after 3D printing followed by catalyzation processes, and the right images are those after electroless deposition.


WU researchers found the adhesion of the metal coating to be much higher than the results from the conventional metallization process. As a matter of fact, the conventional approach produces a metallic coating that is non-uniform and adheres poorly to the objects. Moreover, their approach is entirely compatible with existing fused filament fabrication (FFF) 3D printers.

Lastly, unlike the conventional method, this technology doesn’t require any type of roughening or etching of the ABS structure to promote the deposition of the catalyst. The results are hybrid pieces that do not need the use of toxic chemicals like chromic acid.

Considering its potential use in 3D electronics, which is the focus of upcoming IoT and AI applications, metal-plastic hybrid 3D printing it’s already significant.

“Our hybrid 3D printing method has opened up the possibility of fabricating 3D electronics so that devices and robots used in healthcare and nursing care could become significantly better than what we have today.”

– Shinjiro Umezu, professor Waseda University, Japan. Source: Aditive Manufacturing

We expect that this study breaks the ice for a hybrid 3D printing technique that will allow the community to get the best of both metal and plastic materials.

Click here to read the full document published in Additive Manufacturing.

Suggested topic: Czinger 21C is a 3D-printed hybrid hypercar from the US.

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