Additively manufactured sensors

© Fraunhofer ILT, Aachen, Germany / Volker Lannert.

The collection of component condition data such as thermal and mechanical load, together with AI, forms the basis for predictive maintenance and big data. Suitable sensors that are integrated into the components are advantageous for collecting this data. Laser-based coating approaches enable the additive construction of sensors on different surfaces, e.g. through the wet-chemical deposition of electrically insulating and conductive materials using printing processes and subsequent thermal post-treatment with laser radiation.

Fields of application

Printed electronics can already be found in many areas of the consumer market today, such as OLED displays, solar cells and e-book readers. Potential fields of application that will benefit from printed electronics in the future are industrial areas such as transmission technology, large machines, power generation, rail vehicles and aerospace.

Researchers at Fraunhofer ILT have successfully manufactured components with printed sensors in a single step in several projects for the automotive, consumer electronics and toolmaking application areas, among others.

Using expensive raw materials wisely

Today, gold plating for high-quality contact points is produced using electroplating or chemical and physical deposition processes. Not only are these processes costly and time-consuming, but they also use partially environmentally harmful and toxic chemicals.

By combining printing and laser processes, research can help industry reduce its consumption of costly precious metals and avoid the use of environmentally harmful chemicals in electroplating processes altogether.

Printing smart components

Additive manufacturing makes it possible to print strain gauges on inexpensive carrier foils or directly onto components, eliminating the manual step of gluing them on. Sensors can also be inserted into a component during the LPBF process.

To do this, the LPBF process is paused at the appropriate time. In addition to strain gages, temperature sensors, conductor paths or heating structures can also be applied to the components.

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