3D printing or additive manufacturing and its applications in the domain of electronics are still in their infancy. However, given the rapid development of technology and the growing number of 3D printing services across the world, it is worth following its research developments and their industrial potential. Following on the footsteps of polymers, and then metals, this technology involves first, prototyping first and then production.
How 3D printing is revolutionizing electronics manufacturing
Non-planar electronics or electronics occupying three-dimensional area is in the prototyping phase of applications. Unsurprisingly, this is the area 3D printing is predicted to cause a major impact. With their non-planar features and integrated circuits, 3D printed electronics can theoretically become shape-shifters, i.e. occupy any space, and take on any shape!
Low 3D printing cost and its time-saving ability allow for expedited production, customizations, cheap iterations, and adaptive design. Whether you want minimalism in your designs, casings for your electronics devices such as car sensors or even mini drones, 3D printing technology is pushing the limits of imagination.
Ongoing research also indicates that it might soon be possible to directly 3D print electronic circuits, similar to the Fused Deposition Modeling technology (FDM). This may be achieved with the assistance of a very special type of printer, which uses a substrate containing conductive ink.
Shielding, antennas, and sensors are some of the other types of electronic components that 3D printing technology can produce. A unique use for the services of 3D printing has been found in the combination of aerospace and electronics engineering. This has enabled directly onto the wing of unmanned aerial vehicles, thus creating a lighter and more streamlined design.
The potential to create electronic circuits in very small spaces makes additive manufacturing a unique technology indeed. Its impact has been felt already in the mobile phones industry where microscopic technology warrants the ability to print directly onto 3D surfaces. This enables the assembly process to be vastly reduced. Reduction of the overall weight of the finished product is also decreased
Employing the use of additive manufacturing in electronics design, prototyping and production have a number of advantages.
- Preparatory costs of buying and storing parts in advance for possible future needs are drastically reduced if 3D printing is applied in the manufacturing process. In other words, the use of resources and the means to procure them can be adjusted.
- 3D printing makes it possible to have a quicker turnaround time. So, it becomes easier to respond quickly to demands, as and when they arise. Connected to this is the advantage of being able to reduce the need to stockpile components and make production more economical.
- Continuing with financial benefits of 3D printed electronics, materials are wasted far less in this process as compared to conventional engineering techniques. Any unused materials are simply transferred on to the next project. This ensures a whopping 90% reduction in wastage of materials!
- Companies can also trim their budgets by saving on money invested in human inputs. Going 3D means periodic checks become far and few between given the efficiency and precision of the technology. It is also due to this precise nature of the process of additive manufacturing that human errors can be completely nullified, as compared to conventional techniques.
- Last, but not least of all, 3D modeling and printing enable the practice of innovation in reality. And, it is human nature to be attracted to innovative products. The end result – see your business soar above the competition!
Why 3D printing has proven to be revolutionary for electronics manufacturing
3D printing technology is in itself a revolutionary development. And, it is aiding another innovator, i.e. the domain of electronics engineering, become legendary.
So, what are the unique features that render additive manufacturing such an avant-garde status? We list a few here.
- The true exercise of intellectual property rights – this has become a source of insecurity with electronics companies nowadays. And with good reason. Most such companies outsource the production of electronic components to Asian (mainly, Chinese) companies. Here, protection of intellectual rights of the source company is usually at stake as hacking becomes rampant. Thanks to 3D printing, the risk of hacking can be tackled as it is no longer required to outsource electronics production. With in-house 3D printing, you will be more than equipped to create prototypes of circuits, as well as your casing.
- Quicker and easier iterations – 3D printing electronics prototypes in-house enables quicker iterations. If you are yet to install the facility in-house, fret not. Just order your 3D print service online. There are quite a few quality service providers in this domain.
- Relocalization: bringing the tech home – This implies there is a forecast from industry experts that electronics production which has for a long time been localized in China, is set for a major relocalization drive.
- Adding an extra dimension to electronic circuits – not too long ago, electronics component design could only be imagined and visualized in 2D designs. Now, with new ways of stacking the circuits, the third dimension has been made a reality. Imagine the spurt in creativity and enthusiasm in the minds and works of contemporary design engineers with the arrival of this extra dimension!
- Tapping new materials and the Internet of Things – 3D printing might make it possible for reflection on new materials on which to implement the circuits. There is already research on the possibility of printing circuits on flexible fabrics. This, in turn, will have an impact on the Internet of Things. How do you ask? Having 3D printed electronic circuits in every object of our daily lives will turn them into sensors. More sensors, more connections. Imagine that!
Some popular examples
Now, that you know what true genius 3D printed electronics can be, we thought you will like to check out this list of marvelous 3D printed electronic products that we curated for you.
3D Printed Antenna for Mobile Devices: In order to improve design flexibility, and create more environmentally-friendly products, 3D printing cell phone antenna is a good option. What’s more, it is a completely digital process without the need for hard tooling, special plastic resins, or plating processes.
Circuits – 3D MID: Direct printing of complex 3D Moulded Interconnect Devices (MID) makes production simpler and quicker.
Heater Patterns: The creation of heater patterns on materials such as PC for automotive applications can be made possible by way of 3D printed circuits. This can reduce overall weight by 50% as compared to glass.
Where we are headed
3D printing is a non-discriminatory technology, which enables business, big or small, to take giant leaps of progress. This is especially made possible through the lower costs of a 3D printer. Added to this is the mass-production ability of 3D printing. In-house prototyping and production have been long-awaited by business, otherwise compelled to outsource their processes. Their wait is finally at an end.
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