Electronic 3D printing is rapidly becoming one of the major technologies in the electronics industry. Currently it is widely used to accelerate product development through rapid prototyping. However, we are increasingly seeing a technological shift towards the production of functional electronic components.
How 3D printing is important in electronics industry?
The life cycle of electronic products is shrinking, prompting electronics manufacturers to find ways to accelerate product development and production.
Faced with this challenge, manufacturers are looking for ways to bring prototypes closer to their design teams.
Currently, most of the production of prototypes and components is entrusted to East Asia. This means that manufacturers developing products in Europe and North America send electronic designs to China and often have to wait weeks to get their prototypes back.
In addition, the minimum order quantity is often higher than that required by the manufacturer, forcing them to purchase more prototypes than needed for testing and validation.
One way to achieve this is to use local contract manufacturers. However, this raises another question about the potential for intellectual property (IPR) infringement. Ideally, manufacturers should have solutions for internal prototyping, and that’s where 3D printing electronics come in.
3D printers designed specifically for electronics applications are becoming increasingly popular as they allow electronics companies to import prototypes at home. Such systems are often available in a compact desktop format and thus can be placed directly in product development.
It is important that 3D printers can prototype electronic components such as circuit boards, antennas, capacitors, and sensors within hours. This makes design validation faster and allows for more frequent redesigns. Maintaining your own electronic 3D printing system also reduces the risk of IP theft.
Another factor driving electronic 3D printing is the constant advancement and miniaturization of electronic components with increasing demand for advanced functionality. The demand for non-standard flexible electronics is growing exponentially, but as such components can be challenging with traditional techniques, 3D printing technology is starting to meet the demand.
How Electronic Printing Work
Electronic printing is not a new concept. 2D printing technologies such as inkjet and screen printing have been used to manufacture electronic components for several years. All of these processes are alive and well, but there are limits. Most 2D processes are designed for 2-dimensional printing, which means that they can only be used to fabricate electronic components on a flat surface.
For example, in traditional PCB manufacturing, engineers design in 2D and produce various layers in 2D. You then have to go through all sorts of additional process steps like drilling, pressing, and coating to combine multiple separate layers into a multi-layer 3D board.
3D printing expands design possibilities by allowing engineers to print entire diagrams on non-planar surfaces.
It must be admitted that this technology is currently mainly used for prototyping. However, new and improved systems are starting to hit the market, demonstrating that 3D printing electronics could soon be used in fully functional, mass-produced products.
Applications in electronics with 3D printing
3D printed PCB Board
Printed circuit boards (PCBs) allow manufacturers to fabricate complex cables and electrical circuits on relatively small, organized, flat materials. The main concept for printed circuit boards is that by forming lines of conductive material on a non-conductive board, we can create complex electrical systems on surfaces in very small spaces. Then several layers of these panels can be laid on top of each other to create more complex schemes.
Due to their efficiency and low cost for serial production, printed circuit boards are used in all modern electronic devices, from home computers to the most modern laboratory equipment. The applications for this technology are endless and can be used in a variety of DIY projects.
Different method using for 3D printing in PCB Board
- Using Conductive Filament
- Creating Hollow Traces
3D printing antenna
Antennas are an integral part of all commercial and military aircraft as well as satellite, UAV and ground terminals.
The advent of 3D printing has led to the development of new antenna designs that cannot be achieved using traditional manufacturing techniques. 3D printing also allows manufacturers to create traditional antenna shapes with less weight and lower cost.
Optisys is a company focused on the design, manufacture and testing of lightweight antennas in metallic 3D printing. To manufacture the antenna, Optisys uses a dust layer synthesis process in which a thin layer of dust is welded into a hard metal with a high-power laser.
Through this welding process, one part is built up in one small layer at a time. This manufacturing process allows materials to be added only when needed, thereby achieving specific mechanical or radio frequency (RF) functions.
In one example, Optisys produced a demonstration sub-antenna of the X-band SATCOM Integrated Tracking Array (XSITA). 3D printing, combined with simulation software, allows Optisys to reduce the number of parts in an assembly from more than 100 to just 1 individual part. Optisys also announced that lead times have been reduced by 9 months from 11 to 2 months and production costs have been reduced by at least 20%.
As an integral part of any electronic system, a connection is a structure that electrically connects two or more circuit elements (such as transistors) to each other.
Modern methods of making connections, such as connecting cables, have several limitations, including long cable paths and high mechanical stresses on fragile components. Printing direct connections on circuit boards and RF components has the potential to solve this challenge.
The Aerosol Jet technology developed by Optomec is one technology that allows conformal connections to be 3D printed on surfaces, eliminating the need for wired connections.
Aerosol inkjet printing begins with a spray of ink that produces droplets one to two microns in diameter. The atomized droplets are captured in the gas stream and fed to the printhead. The printer then ejects droplets of material at high speed, allowing them to adhere to the substrate. The process takes place at room temperature without the use of a vacuum or pressure.
A team at aerospace and defense company Northrop Grumman used this method to make the semiconductor gallium arsenide (GaAs). In the study, the researchers fabricated 3D printed dielectric layers and gold bridge interconnects from a GaAs-based monolithic microwave integrated circuit (MMIC).
Once printed, MMIC components undergo RF and reliability tests, including thermal shock, temperature cycling, and current-voltage tests. Under such difficult conditions, MMIC shows no signs of deteriorating performance, proving that 3D printed connections can work in real-world scenarios.
3D printing capacitor
Capacitors, devices used in electronic circuits to store energy and electrical charge, are another component that can be 3D printed.
Today’s traditional PCB manufacturing technology requires capacitors to be mounted on the PCB. However, this leads to a not very efficient use of printed circuit board surfaces.
With 3D printing, on the other hand, capacitors can be printed directly onto the circuit board, meaning electronics engineers avoid the potentially time-consuming and complicated assembly process while creating smaller fingerprints on the circuit board.
Other advantages can include shorter circuit paths, expanded bandwidth, increased signal speed, and minimized noise.
Nano Dimension, a developer of electronic 3D printers, recently announced that they have successfully developed a built-in capacitor using 3D printing. Your DragonFly 3D printer’s power line technology works by depositing two materials (conductive and dielectric) in layers from the bottom up, following the locations given in the design file.
After more than 260 tests on 30 different sizes of 3D printed capacitors, the company is reported to have shown consistent results showing less than 1% variation between components.
Nano Dimension says its capacitors can be used in radio frequency transmission lines, audio processing, radio reception and circuit conditioning.
This phase corresponds to the trend in the electronics industry for miniaturization and alignment of electronic devices. Obviously, the possibility of 3D printing to create smaller capacitors is expanding and offering electronics engineers new opportunities to optimize PCB designs.
3D printing sensors are one of the most exciting applications in 3D printing electronics. These devices, which can detect and respond to all kinds of inputs from the physical environment, are used in everything from car emission control systems to automatic doors to cell phones.
Biomedical sensors are one application that can take advantage of 3D printing. For example, researchers at Georgia Tech and Emory University are developing 3D-printed sensors that could potentially help doctors monitor and assess aneurysm healing wirelessly.
This sensor is manufactured using aerosol jet 3D printing. It consists of six layers of biocompatible polyimide, two separate layers of a mesh pattern made of silver nanoparticles, a dielectric and a soft polymer encapsulation material.
According to the research team, 3D printing can be used to produce very small electronic functions in one step. This eliminates the need for the traditional multi-step lithography process. It also means that sensors can be produced in larger volumes and at lower costs.
This technology provides an illustration of how combining smart devices and 3D printing electronics can improve healthcare.
Apart from medical applications, 3D printed sensors can also be used to monitor the operation of turbine blades. For example, General Electric uses Optomec’s Aerosol Jet technology to print a ceramic tension sensor directly onto the turbine blades. These sensors are used to detect fatigue and creep in metal to prevent costly and dangerous damage.
The use of 3D printing sensors is expected to save $1 billion.
Turbine blade maintenance is expensive and time consuming, but 3D printing sensors on gas turbine components can help optimize this process.
The combination of 3D printing and sensor technologies opens the door to a wide range of applications in the medical, energy and aerospace industries. As research in this area continues, we will see increased use of 3D printed sensors driven by the need for smaller but even more effective surveillance solutions.
Limitation of 3D Printing In Electronics Industry: Motherboard
3D printers are bad for resolution, but you can use the CNC method to make circuit boards, especially if you have a really good one. The problem is in making high-frequency and data buses required impedance, spacing and thickness that are quite perfect.
Motherboards contain between 6 and 10 layers, depending on the design and complexity. It was 10 layers embedded in something only a few mm thick. Some of these layers are very smooth and others are slabs of earth material.
This is really very complicated and there is no really good technique other than current 3D printing technology to do it.
3D printing will be a transforming technology in the years to come, but it is not without its limitations. 3D printing can never completely replace traditional manufacturing processes.
Power Consumption – The high energy costs associated with 3D printing is one of the most problematic aspects of technology today. Several studies have shown that 3D printing uses a hundred times more electricity than traditional production. Not only expensive, but also pay attention to environmental aspects. These costs tend to decrease over time as technology grows and improves.
3D printing is slow compared to traditional production. Therefore, acceptance for mass production is unlikely, at least in the short term. It depends on the size and details of the website. Production speed is also less important for home use and small production lines.