© EOS (illustration purposes only!) Electronics Production | August 22, 2016

3D electronic printing to change the world?

Today, 3D printing or additive manufacturing (AM) is not a new word any more. We've come a long way, despite it being a relatively new technology.
Google 3D printing and a wealth of websites – from informative to commercial – will pop up in your browser window:
  • 3d printed chocolate Ford Mustang
  • 3d printed sugary treats
  • 3d printed livers replicating the functions of a real liver
  • etc.

You name it, the possibilities seem endless. But how about printed electronics? Now you will probably have “But!” on your lips. “That already exists.” True, but I am talking about a 3d printed electric toothbrush; fully functional and ready for being used. Is it possible?

Most will agree that the technology advances of recent years will make 3d printing more accessible. New materials will make it easier to fulfil this dream of “printing stuff at home when you need it”. To an extend anyway.

But, although the 3D printed products grew in complexity and in detail, most products still serve a single function. And while designers and engineers might already (very probably too) dream about far more complex and high-tech products, we have a good bit to go until then.

The secret to success is to combine electronics (such as sensors/switches/semiconductors/circuitry) as the object is being printed. US-based start-up Voxel8 – founded by the research group around Harvard professor Jennifer Lewis – has succeeded in developing a 3d printer technology that uses ink made of silver particles, which has a resistivity of less than 5.00×10-7 Ω-m. The Volex8 printer is also able to print the physical structure and circuitry simultaneously. The designer just places components when the design calls for it. The printer then continues with its work where it left off.

This technology – thanks to its accuracy and flexibility – will potentially offer cost savings for the PCB industry. It will also offer a seemingly endless choice when it comes to shape. I can also see a major – positive - impact when it comes to sustainability, as well as environmental protection.

The design process will be changed completely.

Interesting indeed and promising for the future of prototyping, although I have to say I prefer the look of selective laser sintering (sls). Beta Layout and his partner Laser Microelectronics have been experimenting in this area for some time now.

Hartmut Pfromm, Sales & Marketing Manager at Beta Layout, explains: “we started out to offer this service to our customers, but we are increasingly using it for our own prototyping services. The interesting thing is that we can print movable part in one go, without the need of assembly work at a later stage. It has been well received from our customers.”

The Aarberg-based company might even consider investing in a second EOS 3d printer. Hartmut Pfromm also hints on something new that they have been working on, but is reluctant to talk about it. "We are not quite ready to go public with it."

Want to know about 3d printing and if and when you can print your next smartphone at home? Have a listen to Beta Layout during TEC Lund.
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