Pioneering work in 3D printing research

With the 3DConFil project, researchers at TU Darmstadt are setting new standards in the production of components that flexibly connect electronic lines, cables and sensors.

A research team from TU Darmstadt has developed a hybrid process that combines plastic 3D printing with flexible cable processing.
(Photo: dpa)

DARMSTADT – (red) “In all areas, we are witnessing an increasing mechatronization of products on the market today,” says Kay-Eric Steffan, associate researcher at the Department of Mechanical Engineering at TU Darmstadt. Requirements are becoming more individual, the functional density of products is increasing. But how to integrate this growing diversity in the manufacture of products?

This is exactly where the 3DConFil funding project comes in. Researchers from the Department of Product Development and Machine Elements have developed a hybrid process comprising a production system that combines 3D printing of plastic with flexible cable processing. Cables, electronic lines, hoses or optical fibers are integrated and integrated into the component thus produced.

Subsequent assembly, which is complex and costly in conventional manufacture, is therefore no longer necessary. “This shortens the process chain, saves work steps and material and thus makes production more resource efficient,” says Steffan. The 3DContinous Filament printing process allows the layered construction and printing of a component made of a special mixture of plastic or metal particles.


The Pioneer Fund University Internal Funding Program was established in cooperation with the Entega Naturpur Institut gGmbH and is managed by the Highest Startup and Innovation Center. With an annual budget of 300,000 euros, the program aims to support innovations and contribute to putting scientific results into practice. (red)

Professor Eckhard Kirchner’s team has developed a prototype including special software and an innovative print head, with which products are printed and lines, pipes or cables are “threaded” at the same time. Size, appearance, product requirements are flexible, individual and scalable according to customer requirements. “This makes completely new components possible,” reports Prof. Kirchner. Cables and lines could be installed in a spiral, for example, which has been a challenge so far. Even sensors, magnets or connectors can be integrated in the future.

Several student teams have also been involved in research on 3DConFil since 2018. The innovation is protected by a German patent, an international patent is under review. “We are doing pioneering work,” says Kirchner. The Pioneer Fund of the TU Darmstadt supports the project with around 100,000 euros. In this way, the team can be extended to four people and the business model of 3DConFil can be consolidated. The objective is market maturity by 2024 and the creation of a start-up. The researchers are preparing follow-up funding for their spin-off via an Exist grant. “The Pioneer Fund bridges the gap between idea and seed funding,” says project coordinator Steffan.

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