The objective of this paper is to demonstrate the flexure properties of ABS plastic in a 3D printed object as a process to enable embedded pressure sensing capabilities. Developing the potential for non-static 3D parts broadens the scope of the fused deposition modeling (FDM) process to include printing ‘smart’ objects that utilize intrinsic material properties to act as microphones, load sensors, accelerometers, etc. In order to demonstrate a strain-based pressure transducer, strain gauges were embedded either directly on top or in the middle of a flexible ABS diaphragm.

Securing a strain gage directly on top of the diaphragm traced a reference pressure more closely than diaphragms with the strain gage embedded halfway into the diaphragm. To prevent temperature-related drift, an additional strain gage was suspended above the secured gage, inside the 3D printed cavity. The additional gage allowed for a half-bridge circuit in lieu of a quarter-bridge circuit, which minimized drift due to temperature change. The ABS diaphragm showed no significant signs of elastic hysteresis or nonlinear buckling. When sealed with 100% acetone, the diaphragm leaked ∼50x slower than as-printed sensors. After pressurizing and depressurizing the devices multiple times, they output pressure readouts that were consistent and repeatable for any given pressure within the operational range of 0 to 7psi.

The repeatability of each of the final generation sensors indicates that ‘smart’ objects printed using an FDM process could be individually calibrated to make repeatable recordings. This work demonstrates a concept overlooked previous to now — FDM printed objects are not limited to static models, which lack dynamic motion of the part as an element of design. Altering FDM’s bottom-up process can allow for easily embedding sensing elements that result in printed objects which are functional on the mesoscale.

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