PCB Development Process
Developing sophisticated printed circuit boards (PCBs) having multiple layers is a complex process. We all understand why it takes so much time for prototyping, but we also know that designers and manufacturers would be better served if it were a faster and more flexible process.
Few companies have the luxury of in-house PCB test and manufacturing facilities.
For the rest, testing and retesting PCB designs before they go into production or for proof of concept means sending the designs out to a facility that turns them into a prototype and sends it back. There are some fundamental failings with the current way of doing things:
The prototyping process takes time usually days or even weeks – for turning complex designs into boards.If the prototype reveals any flaws, it takes additional days or weeks to redesign, then get the fixes tested before the design can go into production.
In highly competitive markets, PCB development presents a risk to on-time product development.
Constrained Design Parameters
Depending on the capabilities of the facility that creates the prototypes, board complexity and substrate choices may be limited.
The more intricate the design, the more expensive the set-up costs and overall expense of the prototype.
Printing blind and open vias requires drilling, which adds to both the cost and complexity of the design. The set-up and building costs continue to rise if the prototype reveals any problems that require additional prototyping.
Multilayer, 3D inkjet PCB printing is an entirely new category of 3D printing designed specifically for the production of professional multilayer PCBs, and it eliminates the negative issues associated with outside manufacturing facilities.
With Nano Dimension’s DragonFly 2020 3D Printer – a world’s first for printing multilayer circuit boards, users can build functional prototypes in-house (including the interconnections between layers) in a matter of hours. The new printer category offers a variety of benefits:
Significantly Reduces Lag Time
3D printers can print PCBs in hours – even for the most complex designs - allowing designers to build and test partial boards, or change designs on the fly and build and test the new prototype in the same day.
In markets where time-to-market is crucial, the time advantage of on-site 3D PCB printing can be significant. Using conductive and dielectric inks, it is possible to produce and test professional multilayer prototype PCBs with interconnections and through-holes in hours – including even the most complex designs.
Freedom to Innovate
With in-house printing, designers can innovate without feeling constrained by the current PCB manufacturing process. For instance, there are no limits on the number of layers beyond the mechanical height of the z axis of the printer.
Moreover, a 3D printer allows users to create models that would normally be very difficult or even impossible to produce, or that would be time intensive using current standard subtractive manufacturing processes.
New Material Possibilities
If the design has certain mechanical requirements – extra-rigid, flexible or even transparent – 3D printing can offer a material for the job. The printer can import Gerber files, so setting it up for printing is easy.
After the initial cost of the 3D PCB printer, the expenses associated with prototyping will be limited to the cost of the 3D inks and substrates.
There are no extra charges for processes such as printing blind and open vias. For companies that conduct extensive PCB prototyping, the Return of Investment (ROI) of an in-house 3D PCB printer can be very quick.
DragonFly 2020 3D Printer
The first commercially available 3D PCB printer will be Nano Dimension’s DragonFly 2020 3D Printer. It is a highly accurate and versatile inkjet deposition system for printing multilayer circuit boards.
The innovative hardware, dedicated nano-inks and novel software bring new possibilities to a wide range of R&D, prototyping and custom manufacturing projects.
Nano Dimension also creates proprietary highly conductive silver nano-inks for use with the printers. The DragonFly 2020 3D Printer features a printing size of ca. 20cm x 20cm. The printer prints ca. 90 µm traces, ca. 150 µm vias, and a minimum layer thickness of 2-3 µm.