Researchers use aerosol jet 3D printing to develop strain gauges with unprecedented sensitivity

3D-printing has become a useful tool for prototyping and fabricating novel components and electronics, and the aerosol jet technique, rather than using liquid ink, allows printing on length scales as low as 10 µm.

Using silver nanoparticles in an aerosol jet 3D printer, engineers at 3 US universities have developed a new type of strain gauge. Aerosols of size 1 to 5 microns are produced via atomisation of silver nanoparticle-containing ink and aerodynamically focused into a narrow jet. The aerosolised ink is deposited onto a substrate, making several ‘passes’ to build up a porous 3D film. After sintering, the presence of void space within the gauge allows for greater stretching of the material in response to applied force than for wholly solid material, making measurement of strain more accurate.

Performance at high temperatures is also improved as the high porosity means that the film overall does not expand thermally as much as solid gauges, reducing thermal strain.

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