Electronics manufacturing is in the throes of a quiet transformation built around specialty 3D printers and advanced materials working together to create fully functional electronic parts.
Breakthroughs in additive manufacturing today include using specialty 3D printers to build functional electronics. It’s somewhat of a novelty, but its promise has wide-reaching implications for some of the world's largest industries. Advances already being made around these specialty 3D printers will lead us to new capabilities and radically altered design and production processes. Developments on the horizon include faster printing speeds, higher resolution printing, and increased printing sizes and capabilities for incorporating multiple types of materials – including the ability to use multiple materials while printing a single object.
Innovation Within an Innovative Field
Already, 3D printers for printed electronics are being deployed for printed circuit board (PCB) prototyping and development. With the printers, manufacturers and designers can protect their intellectual property and enjoy faster times to market because they no longer need to use outside outsourcing facilities; product development costs are lowered because designs can be modified and reprinted on the fly; and design flexibility and quality are vastly improved.
While 3D printing has been around for several decades, using specialty additive manufacturing printers to make fully functional electronics circuits is new. Just like other forms of 3D printing, this latest advancement brings new levels of efficiency and productivity to support increased innovation and generate new revenue streams.
The breakthrough in creating electronics with 3D printers comes from Nano Dimension, the Israel-based creators of the DragonFly 2020 3D Printer and the recently introduced DragonFly 2020 3D Pro Printer. Nano Dimension conceptualized building a high-resolution inkjet 3D printer that uses the company’s advanced nano materials and inks to build – layer-by-layer – completely functional electronic objects such as PCB prototypes, circuits and antennas.
With Nano Dimension’s DragonFly, designers and engineers can print and test designs, make changes as needed, and reprint. Some users might also employ the DragonFly for printing small-batch electronics or developing parts that can’t be made in any other way, because the printers allow for innovative designs that can fit virtually any design footprint. The DragonFly addresses the growing demand for electronic devices that require increasingly sophisticated features and rely on multilayer printed circuit boards. Demand for circuitry, including PCBs – which are at the heart of every electronic device – covers a diverse range of industries, including consumer electronics, medical devices, defense, aerospace, automotive, IoT and telecom. These sectors can all benefit from Nano Dimension’s 3D printed electronics solutions for rapid prototyping and short-run manufacturing.
A Market That Needs Change
The DragonFly addresses the primary challenges in electronic design: transforming concepts into market-ready products quickly, and without breaking the bank – while meeting the need for smaller, faster, lighter, thinner and more functional products.
Today, the PCB development process is extremely time-consuming, particularly for companies that are developing high layer count boards or odd-sized boards that fit a unique device footprint. The more complex the PCB, the longer the design, prototyping and testing process takes. Prototyping – and often re-prototyping – offsite is also expensive. The process involves producing the PCB prototype through traditional subtractive manufacturing methods, often relying on overseas vendors who require several weeks of lead time. The original equipment provider contracts with the prototype manufacturer, and then waits for the board to be produced, shipped, and clear customs before it is delivered for testing.
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