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NSWC Crane Conductive Filament Expands Options for Desktop 3D Printers

State: Indiana

Region: Midwest

Agency: Dept. of Defense

Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) - Crane Division

All-metal copper filament advances the sophistication of printed electronics that can be created cost-effectively with FFF 3D printers

Users of desktop 3D printers—the most common and least expensive kind—can more easily create electronic devices thanks to technology developed by Navy researchers and licensed by a veteran-owned small business.

Scientists at Naval Surface Warfare Center, Crane Division (NSWC Crane), a naval laboratory, developed a proprietary conductive filament—a very thin wire that allows electricity to flow through it—for 3D printers. This filament, now being sold as CU-29, is 80 times more conductive and significantly more cost-effective than other materials available for use with desktop printers.

The technology was licensed by Navy veteran Ian Ramsdell, who started a company named Kupros to commercialize the all-metal copper filament for military, industrial and medical uses.

Currently, to print electronics or antennas, innovators can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a specialized printer to create conductive circuits. Fused filament fabrication (FFF) printers are the most common type of 3D printer and can cost less, but the electrically conductive filaments that are compatible with these smaller printers generally contain plastic in addition to metal. The plastic must be removed before the printed electronic device can be used—a costly and time-consuming process that can degrade the metal, ruining a print.

Entrepreneur Ramsdell discovered the CU-29 technology by taking part in a program sponsored by the National Security Innovation Network (NSIN), an office within the Department of Defense. He started a company and was able to license the technology quickly through NSWC Crane’s royalty-free Rapid Licensing Program, which was launched during the pandemic. Kupros then won first place in the Crane IP Pitch Competition in August 2022.

Almost immediately, Kupros had orders from government and commercial customers. The company’s goal is to allow users of desktop 3D printers to create more sophisticated devices with embedded electronic circuits. In addition to CU-29, Kupros is working on filament formulations for aerospace, medical device, and other applications.

Ramsdell sees his mission as more than just serving the military with this technology. “We’re also driving innovation and growth in advanced manufacturing in the U.S.,” Ramsdell said.





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