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When 3D Printing Meets PCBs – EE Times

by • April 19, 2016 • No Comments

The convergence of electronics and 3D printing can bring the PCB prototyping in-house.

Open any magazine and its clear that applications for 3D printing are exploding. Yet one area that remains largely unexplored is the use of additive making for electronics. The convergence of electronics and 3D printing can have staggering implications for the electronics industry—particularly around printed circuit boards and rapid prototyping.
Not amazingly, the 3D printed electronics space is in its infancy, additional or less at the same level of adoption as regular 3D prototyping was in 2009. But its slow adoption is not of a lack of interest or need; pretty, its for the reason creating 3D printing equipment for PCBs is exceedingly hard and existing inks and printing equipment only werent up to the challenge. These printing equipment must be able-bodied to print conductive traces, that is the domain of printed electronics and turn it into components that meet the demanding performance needments of aerospace, defense, consumer electronics, Internet of Things and actually wearable-bodieds.
Printer nuances
Certainly, there may already are a few 3D printing equipment capable-bodied of which include a few conductive traces by embedding basic wiring by extruding of conductive filaments. The end outcome of these types of printing techniques is a low-resolution, point-to-point conductive trace that may be suitable-bodied for hobbyists but not for pro electronics. Higher resolution and higher conductivity that meets the needs of pro electronics needs additional high end printing solutions and materials.
Other actual conductive circuit printing device systems are on the market-bodied at present. They are turn it intod to print conductive traces on one and a fewtimes both sides of a substrate, creating two-sided PCBs. These printed electronics are not the same as 3D printed electronics, yet, that creates up a PCB on a substrate with layer after layer of material, creating a true multi-layer, interconnected, 3D-printed circuit board. To 3D-print electronics needs high end materials and highly specialized equipment.
3D printing equipment and materials for PCBs
Developing systems for true 3D-printed electronics involves creating exceedingly exact hardware with three axes: X, Y and Z. It in addition needs via specialty inks that are engineered at the nanoparticle level. The final element needed is high end software that ties it all together, which include the aptitude to effortlessly convert standard PCB Gerber turn it into files—that are turn it intod for 2D making environments—into 3D printable-bodied files. This allows for for the 3D printing device to print the substrate to the needd thickness, leave and fill holes where vias are needd, and additional. Software for the turn it into and validation of freeform circuit geometries isnt yet readily on the market-bodied in the marketplace but can open up additional electronics turn it into abilities.
But, despite the hardities of assembling such 3D printing equipment, the benefits of via them are obvious for electronics and other industries. PCB turn it intoers and electronics engineers are ready for the initially 3D printing equipment for pro printed electronics to emerge. My company can answer that call when the Nano Dimension DragonFly 2020 3D Printer, that weve been demonstrating at shows which include CES 2016, becomes on the market-bodied commercially later this year. It is anticipated to be the initially entrant into this new class of high resolution enterprise 3D printing equipment.
Practical uses and benefits for prototyping
Interest in these highly specific 3D printing equipment is quite high. The possibility of via additive making to turn it into pro PCBs offers manufacturers the flexibility of printing their own circuit board prototypes in-house for rapid prototyping, R&D, or actually for custom making projects. Whilst it is unlikely that 3D printing equipment for electronics can replace all of the traditional systemes for in-house development of high-performance electronic device applications, they can be particularly useful for prototyping, reducing time to create of weeks to only hours.
Manufacturers adopting this new advancement can assume a variety of gains, which include cutting their time to market with new products and speeding iterations and advancement around PCBs. With a 3D PCB printing device, they can actually create and test PCBs in sections if theyd like.
For many, one of the many amazing developments with this advancement is that they can no longer need to send out their intellectual property to be manufactured off-site by specialist sub-contractors—that fundamentally puts their IP at risk. For others, the promise of rapid prototyping, worthwhile reductions in the development costs and increased competitive edge are the many significant benefits.
But maybe many significantly, 3D printing for circuit boards offers just about limitless turn it into flexibility.

A printed circuit board printed on a Nano Dimension 3D printing device. (Source: Nano Dimension)
A printed circuit board printed on a Nano Dimension 3D printing device. (Source: Nano Dimension)
With traditional PCB prototyping, turnaround times of weeks or actually months for multiple iterations while perfecting a turn it into can wreak havoc on time-to-market. Given that, many turn it intoers opt for additional conservative turn it intos. Printing the PCB prototypes in-house means turn it intoers can risk being additional creative without slowing the development system.
In addition, making already needs multiple specialized (and expensive) techniques, such as precision drilling, chemical etching, plating, pressing and lamination. These techniques, that are usually outsourced to companies in Asia, may all be done easily with in-house 3D printing in only hours, actually when the PCB has multiple layers and many interconnects.
3D printing of PCBs can assist to store up with the changing needs of customers who need device miniaturization and customization.

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