Additive manufacturing is already revolutionizing various industries from the automotive sector to the medical field, and now it is looks promising to disrupt the electronic industry. They can save thousands of dollars by printing heat sinks, connectors, components, and even printed circuit boards. With complex electronic devices, particularly multilayer PCBs, 3D printing eliminates repetitive etching, pressing, drilling, and finishing steps during fabrication. The right additive manufacturing system and process can be used to print a fully-functional board in less time than a traditional process.
3D printing can provide the flexibility and the speed you need when building new hardware and electronic products. 3D printing helps you get from the idea to the product in a matter of days . This helps designers and engineers quickly diagnose functionality problems and determine required redesigns, ultimately reducing development time for new electronics. No stock, no minimum number of units and short turnaround are the key upsides. Thus, 3D printing electronic devices appears to be really interesting. Using additive manufacturing also offers you flexibility in the creation of your design. More than a perfectly adapted device, you can also elaborate complex geometries impossible to make with other traditional manufacturing techniques.
The layer-by-layer deposition process in 3D printing allows sensors, antennas, and other functional electronics to be printed directly onto plastic components, metal surfaces, and even glass panels and ceramic materials. The creation of electronic devices with conductive features using 3D printing can particularly be useful to develop IoT (Internet of Things) projects. This innovative technology could allow creating 3D printed devices like LED, or touch sensors. But this ability to 3D print conductive devices could be involved in bigger projects, in soft robotics, 3D electronics, and also for communication devices such as 3D printed Near Field Communication (NFC) antennas.
A prototype board can be printed directly into a proposed enclosure and tested immediately for functionality, user experience, and mechanical rigor. When you bring a 3D printer for mechanical components into the in-house prototyping process, you can produce a fully-functional prototype for your product with less time and costs than with traditional manufacturing and fabrication processes. Thus like software in the future the hardware will be also able to be developed using agile design and development processes, by becoming adaptable to design changes. This also helps design teams quickly adapt their products to changes in consumer tastes or customer requirements with less time and expense.
3D printing in consumer electronics production is only set to become more mainstream as more companies adopt an Industry 4.0 mindset. The elimination of tooling requirements, fixed costs and lead time, and elimination of traditional DFM constraints will ultimately enable customizable and modular consumer electronics. This represents a huge opportunity for manufacturers as they will have the ability to produce consumer electronics with high mix and low volume, writes Amit Dror, Co-Founder of Nano Dimension Ltd. As additive manufacturing systems can be brought in-house, an innovative company can take greater control over product quality and design security and protecting the Intellectual Property.
Military is also actively promoting 3D printing electronics. Commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) embedded computing companies are already creating boards via 3D printing. “In the defense industry 3D vendors – like us – printing our own PWB [printed wire board] to prototype will save thousands of dollars per board type per project and potentially putting financial pressure on many of the smaller prototype PWB manufacturers,” says Doug Patterson, Vice President of Military and Aerospace Business at Aitech in Chatsworth, Calif. This is only one of the disruptive elements to the industry.
However, the application of 3D printing in electronics still has hurdles like conformance to military specifications , process and procedural issues. “I doubt it will happen, unless complex processing, FPGA, and memory electronic components can be 3D printed in commercially-viable production with nanometer line widths too,” Patterson says. “Then there’s the legal IP right issues that would need to be worked out of who owns what rights to manufacture proprietary replacement parts, etc.”
3D printed circuit board by Nano Dimension and Harris Corp: 3D Printed Circuit Boards
Nano Dimension is known to work actively on 3D printed electronic devices The Nano Dimension’s DragonFly™ system is used to 3D print functional electronics prototypes and complex multi-layer Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs). But that is not all. Nano Dimension and Harris Corp partnered to develop 3D printed electronic devices to create a radio frequency (RF) amplifier. They now work to go further and create hardware for the International Space Station. Their goal is to optimize the 3D printing process for RF components for flight studies aboard the ISS. Using additive manufacturing is a solution for them to find new ways to create radio frequency and circuit boards to find new innovative techniques.
Collaboration achieves breakthrough in electronics 3D printing
Sensor solutions provider Hensoldt together with the leading Additively Manufactured Electronics (AME) / Printed Electronics (PE) provider, Nano Dimension, has achieved a major breakthrough on its way to utilizing 3D printing in the development process of high-performance electronics components. Utilizing a newly developed dielectric polymer ink and conductive ink from Nano Dimension, Hensoldt succeeded in assembling the world-wide first 10-layer printed circuit board (pcb) which carries high-performance electronic structures soldered to both outer sides. Until now, 3D printed boards could not bear the soldering process necessary for two-sided population of components.
“Military sensor solutions require performance and reliability levels far above those of commercial components,” says Hensoldt CEO, Thomas Müller. “To have high-density components quickly available with reduced effort by means of 3D printing gives us a competitive edge in the development process of such high-end electronic systems.”
“Nano Dimension’s relationship with Hensoldt is the type of partnership with customers we are striving for,” comments Yoav Stern, Nano Dimension president & CEO. “Working together and learning from Hensoldt led us to reach a first-of-its-kind in-depth knowledge of polymer materials applications. Additionally, it guided us in the development of Hi-PEDs (high performance electronic device) that create competitive edges by enabling unique implementations with shortest time to market.”
AMEs are useful to verify a new design and functionality of specialized electronic components before production. AME is a highly agile and individual engineering methodology to prototype a new electronic circuitry. This leads to significant reduction of time and cost in the development process. Furthermore, AME gives a verified and approved design before production starts, leading to higher quality of the final product.
Hensoldt started working with Nano Dimension’s DragonFly 3D printing system in 2016, in order to examine the possibilities of 3D printing electronics. Last year, Hensoldt successfully implemented the DragonFly Lights-Out Digital Manufacturing (LDM) printing technology, the industry’s only additive manufacturing platform for round-the-clock 3D printing of electronic circuitry.
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