To anyone that follows the semiconductor or electronics industry or works in logistics, it is no surprise that component shortages, counterfeits, and price fluctuations bring an unwanted level of uncertainty to enterprise resource planning. Most of the past two years were characterized by constant shortages and long lead times for electronic components, opening the door for counterfeiters to push fake components onto the market.
A monthly survey from Technology Consulting Partners found that, as of May 2019, component suppliers are finally producing enough inventory to satisfy current demand, although they still need to fill a backlog of orders in an effort to reduce cancellations. Despite the higher inventory, one can expect passive component price increases and continued fluctuation in the near future. Despite the higher inventory throughout the industry, 18% of companies surveyed reported that they will be raising prices by at least 2%.
3D printing can help with managing the supply chain and passive component price increase.
Addressing Passive Component Price Increases and Shortages
With the length of the most recent shortage lasting so long, and with current inventory being allotted to filling a backlog of orders, manufacturers and designers should take steps to offset the price increases that come with a shortage. This can certainly involve maintaining stock of commonly-used components, which will help reduce lead times for new manufacturing runs. Unfortunately for smaller companies or short-run manufacturers, larger companies tend to buy up and hold available stocks, and the pain points of passive component price increases and shortages continue to persist, despite higher inventory in the supply chain.
Companies developing new electronics products can also take steps to offset cost increases that arise during a component shortage. Bringing manufacturing capabilities in-house can offset a passive component price increase by controlling manufacturing costs for low-volume, high-complexity PCBs. There also are other benefits these companies can enjoy by taking advantage of additive manufacturing.
Direct Printing of Passive Components
The three fundamental passive components (resistors, capacitors, and inductors) are among the most purchased components worldwide. These components are required to build circuits that support active components in nearly all electronic products. Capacitors and resistors remained in particularly short supply over 2018 as these are required to ensure power integrity and signal integrity for a number of active components.
Using an additive manufacturing system that digitally prints conductive elements from metal nanoparticle inks and a dielectric substrate ink simultaneously, allows designers to print inductors directly on the surface layer of a PCB. As capacitors are essentially two conductors separated by an insulator, capacitors can also be easily fabricated as embedded components with an inkjet 3D printer.
As additive manufacturing processes and systems continue to advance, and as the range of useful materials increases, one can expect that 3D printing capabilities will expand to allow for additive manufacturing of resistors directly onto a PCB. This expansion in usable materials and printing capabilities will also reduce the price associated with direct 3D printing of passive electronic components. Companies that require rapid prototyping capabilities or that want to manufacture low-volume, high-complexity boards for finished products can bypass the traditional supply chain and avoid component shortages. In addition, the use of additive manufacturing for passive components can be more cost-effective than with traditional processes.
Reduced Prototyping Costs
Companies that are developing PCBs for new electronics products will go through several iterations of designing, building, and testing, which will require the development of a proof of concept and multiple orders of prototype boards. Each functional proof of concept and prototype will require its own components, which makes each prototyping run vulnerable to shortages in the supply chain and causes fluctuations in costs. Not all PCB manufacturers will offer fabrication services for a single proof of concept or rapid prototype, and those that do will charge you significantly more per board than the cost incurred with a high-volume manufacturing run.
With additive manufacturing, the cost per board is essentially independent of manufacturing volume and complexity. When creating a large number of functional prototypes or complex PCBs for use in products, the flat fabrication costs nicely offset any passive component price increase. With low-volume runs, the flat cost per board increases the money you save as boards become more complex. This is due to the elimination of dozens of fabrication and assembly steps that are required in traditional PCB manufacturing processes.
Small printed circuit board for a prototype device
If you work with a traditional manufacturer and you want your design to come off a traditional PCB fabrication line, then it must be designed to meet the capabilities of traditional PCB manufacturing processes. These processes constrain the creativity of designers to purely planar designs with the standard interconnect architectures used in PCBs.
In contrast, the layer-by-layer deposition process used to 3D print PCBs allows designers to create unique non-planar interconnect architectures within additively manufactured multilayer PCBs and substrates with a unique form factor. Designers have greater freedom to experiment with new interconnect designs and non-planar printed or embedded components that may require excessive costs in traditional PCB manufacturing processes.
Unleashing Creativity at Lower Costs
The initial investment in an additive manufacturing system for 3D-printed electronics can quickly pay for itself thanks to the reduced prototyping and manufacturing costs for low-volume fabrication runs, massively reduced fabrication time, and an accelerated testing process. With this technology, you’ll be able to unleash the creativity of your designers and become more innovative than the competition.
If yet another passive component price increase is cutting into your prototyping budget, your bottom line or development cycle times, you can offset these costs when you work with the DragonFly Pro additive manufacturing system from Nano Dimension. This unique additive manufacturing system is designed for rapid prototyping and manufacturing complex PCBs. You can offset component costs and unleash your creativity when you bring your prototyping capabilities in-house. Read a case study or contact us today if you’re interested in learning more about the DragonFly Pro system.