Additive manufacturing has its roots in the 1980s and has gradually matured into a formidable set of technologies. What was once viewed as a technology for building plastic widgets in college dorm rooms is now being used in a variety of industries, including aerospace, defense, mobile/IoT, and medical devices.
Advances in additive production processes and a wealth of newer 3D printing systems are forcing electronics engineers to rethink how they create and qualify new products. This is helping to drive the revolution in manufacturing known as Industry 4.0, where factory assets are being connected and synchronized to increase productivity and quality for advanced products.
In the electronics industry, additive manufacturing processes have finally become scalable and can be integrated alongside other manufacturing assets. These technologies are set to drive several important trends in the electronics manufacturing industry. As the range of scalable additive manufacturing processes expands, so will the market for 3D printed-electronics and new additive manufacturing systems. Let’s take a look at some important additive manufacturing trends to anticipate in 2020 and how they will affect electronics design and production.
New additive manufacturing trends are being driven by scalable processes and greater integration.
Electronics Additive Manufacturing Trends to Watch in 2020
The overall additive manufacturing market is expected to surpass $22 billion by 2025, and additive manufacturing for electronics is expected to pass $1 billion by the same year. In addition to the financial trends, the electronics industry is set to see changes in four important areas.
Greater Integration and Customization
Traditional PCB fabrication processes have historically constrained the creativity of layout engineers. Traditional PCB fabrication techniques require designers to work with an orthogonal interconnect architecture with components placed on surface layers of a board. While using multilayer boards with higher layer counts has given designers some freedom in routing and helps accommodate advanced devices with high I/O count, it has come at the cost of greater manufacturing costs and lead time.
Using additive manufacturing systems for PCB production allows designers to break these traditional design rules as any structure can be manufactured. This includes routing and laying out components with any via or interconnect geometry, and designers can use any board geometry they like. This aids the integration of additively manufactured PCBs into devices with any form factor, to improve performance of components, minimize size, optimize weight and achieve complex and precise geometries while innovating. As more mobile and IoT devices take on increasingly complex form factors, including the addition of sensors. We can expect more electronics designers and layout engineers to see the value in creating their boards with an additive system.
Another aspect of customization is the ability to produce a single device on-demand such that it fits within a desired form factor. This is done by taking advantage of a unique quality of additive manufacturing systems, namely that they do not require retooling. It also enables embedding of components such as sensors. This allows on-demand production of a single electronic device with fixed lead time and cost structure, significantly reducing the time to design and launch a product on the market. It also allows new devices to be easily produced with high mix and low volume directly from a manufacturer’s digital inventory or a customer’s 3D model. This capability will transform the supply chain for electronic products and allow manufacturers to become instantly adaptable to customer demand.
New Low-K Materials and Other Novel Materials
The research community has spent a significant amount of time and energy experimenting with advanced materials for use in a variety of additive manufacturing processes and for producing specialized devices. Electronics production relies on two types of materials: an insulating dielectric substrate and conductive elements. Currently, the co-deposition of insulating and conductive nanoparticle suspensions is the best option for producing a fully-functional PCB in a layer-by-layer process, such as inkjet printing or aerosol jetting.
Furthermore, newer polymer materials with low dielectric constant and semiconducting polymer materials, both with tunable electronic properties, are being adapted for use in nanoparticle suspensions. Electronics manufacturers should expect the range of new materials to continue expanding. This will enable precise production of more advanced devices from a variety of advanced materials at a higher scale and higher printing resolution, freeing designers from constraints that traditional manufacturing imposes, primarily enabling any shape to be printed.
Scaling Up with Digital and Lights Out Manufacturing
Although integration was mentioned above, this spans beyond packing more capabilities into a single board or device. The IPC-CFX connectivity standards enforce a consistent communication protocol between factory assets, including additive manufacturing systems. This drives greater communication between manufacturing equipment, command and control centers, and factory workers. The data that can be exchanged between factory assets can also be captured by engineers and mined for insights. With the right techniques, engineers can determine how to maximize factory productivity, prevent defects, and anticipate maintenance.
New standards are making factories smarter and more autonomous, allowing easier integration of additive manufacturing systems and methodologies.
This connectivity between factory assets enables digital and lights-out manufacturing, which allow a factory to continue production after humans leave the facility. As additive manufacturing technologies are inherently digitized, they fit perfectly within this trend of smart manufacturing and the broader trends of connectivity within a factory. This capability to fully-digitized lights out manufacturing goes beyond electronics production; enclosures for electronic devices can be fabricated alongside electronics using mechanical 3D printing systems, and both sets of additive technologies can be used alongside traditional manufacturing assets within a connected factory.
While the additive manufacturing trends listed above are geared toward electronics manufacturers, the same trends will be seen in other industries. Given the expected growth in the additive manufacturing market and the advantages offered by 3D printing systems, manufacturers in a variety of industries should consider adding additive capabilities to their portfolios.
Innovative electronics companies have a major opportunity to capitalize on these additive manufacturing trends when they use the right specialized 3D printing systems. The DragonFly LDM system from Nano Dimension is ideal for producing complex AME (Additively Manufactured Electronic) circuits in-house with a planar or nonplanar architecture. Your company can also take a lights-out digital manufacturing approach with this advanced PCB fabrication system. Read a case study or contact us today to learn more about the DragonFly LDM system.