A new 3-D printing filament called F-Electric enables 3-D printing with electric or mechanical capabilities. The conductive filament is approximately 1000 times more conductive than anything available today and was used to 3-D print a first-of-its-kind keychain LED flashlight.

“There are all sorts of world-first opportunities right now in 3-D printing,” says Mike Toutonghi, the founder of Functionalize Inc. It began when Toutonghi helped his son build an electromagnetic rocket for a school science project and 3-D printed some of the components. When they got to soldering, progress was halted. “I assumed we could buy some printer or filament to let us 3-D print the electronics,” Toutonghi says on the company’s Kickstarter page. “After searching for some time, I simply found nothing on the market that would let you print circuits.” Toutonghi saw an opportunity.

Toutonghi says the material is a nanotube-based composite that can be formulated with or without metals. Graphene was part of the initial research. “We have developed more-conductive polymers, but the challenge there is developing polymers with sufficient conductivity that can be sold for less than $500/lb.,” he says.

Although the material is ideally suited for multi-head printers, it is designed to work with single-head printers, says Toutonghi. “It even works with today’s 3-D printers that use polylactic acid, so you don’t need to invest in a new kind of printer,” he adds. “Our goal is to allow people to print electronics with the printers they have today.”