Aug 27, 2019

The Benefits of Digital Manufacturing for PCB and Electronics Production

additive-manufacturing You can thank the internet of things for connecting everything. Today, your phone can connect to your computer, television, car, home appliances, and much more. This connectivity is enabling more than creature comforts. Manufacturing processes in a variety of industries are on the verge of greater digitalization and connectivity, including the electronics industry. Manufacturers can see many benefits of digital manufacturing as newer manufacturing assets are created with greater interconnectivity.

When most people think of automation, they think of robots performing tasks that used to require manual labor. Although this is certainly true, automation is not limited to robotics on the factory floor. The coming digital manufacturing revolution is bound to increase the level of automation among a variety of manufacturing processes. This includes standard and advanced processes for circuitry and electronics production.

Digital assembly lineThe benefits of digital manufacturing are realized through automation and connectivity.

The move to digital manufacturing is more than a pipe dream. Today’s technologies are now being leveraged to create connected factories that include additive manufacturing assets. Large companies are already getting involved in developing digital manufacturing centers to enhance the manufacturing process including product and supply chain operations and provide a space for innovation in additive processes. The systems and methodologies developed at these centers will eventually filter to every industry, including electronics.

The Benefits of Digital Manufacturing

As many new products become more advanced and complex, so must the manufacturing processes that produce them. The digital factory is inherently adaptable as it generates fabrication instructions directly from design data. This information can then be communicated throughout a factory, which decreases tooling and configuration time for manufacturing assets. This allows new products to be produced on demand and for a process to be fine-tuned to produce variants of a product. The connectivity between digital manufacturing assets requires less human intervention in the manufacturing process, ultimately decreasing costs.

These benefits lead to increased overall efficiency and decreased lead times. This makes companies that implement digital manufacturing more competitive and allows them to get new products to market. Companies no longer need to outsource their manufacturing runs overseas to remain competitive. By placing digital manufacturing capabilities in-house and closer to their customer base, companies can take greater control over their cost structure and get to market faster than their competitors.

Keeping manufacturing capabilities close to home also hastens the innovation of new products. New designs can be immediately run through a manufacturing process, providing faster execution of design, build, and test cycles as part of new product development. This allows the end product and the manufacturing process to be precisely tuned to maximize quality and yield. This fine-tuning between the process and the product is greatly aided by analyzing data that can be quickly gathered from any digital manufacturing process.

The Role of Big Data

Manufacturing companies already produce a huge amount of data, but most of this data is left unanalyzed because it is unstructured and cannot be easily gathered. Decision makers rarely have an opportunity to gain insights from this data in all but the most modern factories. As a result, most of this data is discarded before it can ever be mined for useful insights. This forces companies to react to problems in the manufacturing process, rather than anticipate them.

The connectivity among digital manufacturing assets naturally generates a large amount of data during production. The natural connectivity between manufacturing assets in a digital factory allows this data to be quickly exchanged between manufacturing assets and gathered at a central control center for analysis. The upcoming IPC-CFX standards will help standardize this type of data exchange between manufacturing assets within a factory, and even among multiple factories in different industries.

Automated analysis of this data using standard data engineering techniques will help process engineers and managers quickly identify bottlenecks in a manufacturing process that impair efficiency and yield. This ultimately helps a company reduce its environmental footprint, become more competitive, and control its maintenance and production costs.

Additive Processes in Digital Manufacturing of Electronics

Additive manufacturing processes and systems have a unique role to play in the digital manufacturing ecosystem. 3D printing requires reading data from digital models to create printing instructions for fabrication, and integrating an additive system into a conventional process as part of digital manufacturing requires a universal data exchange format between all of your equipment. The inherent digitization of additive processes makes them ideal for inclusion in a digital factory, either as a complement to or replacement for subtractive systems and processes.

Even traditional PCB process, such as this automated soldering machine, can see the benefits of digital manufacturing.

Even traditional PCB processes can see the benefits of digital manufacturing.

One of the benefits of digital manufacturing is the ability to manufacture on demand, which is also one of the benefits of additive manufacturing. The layer-by-layer printing process can be used to print many variants of a product in a single run. With the growing customer demand for customization and fast delivery of products, this is extremely useful for rapid prototyping as it provides faster fabrication regardless of complexity. With printed circuits, the costs involved in 3D printing a single prototype or multiple variants of a prototype are independent of the device complexity and volume. This allows prototypes to be produced quickly and with a fixed cost structure, which is difficult or impossible with traditional PCB processes. This makes innovation cheaper, easier, and faster.

Additive manufacturing for electronics provides other benefits beyond their inclusion in digital manufacturing. The layer-by-layer printing process allows new electronics to be printed with a large range of geometries, including non-planar geometry and any via architecture. Currently, additive processes and digital manufacturing are limited in the range of useful materials and manufacturing volume. As of today, additive processes, whether or not they are part of digital manufacturing, are best used with low-volume fabrication runs of highly complex parts. However, the economic benefits can be felt in a variety of industries, ranging from consumer electronics to aerospace and mobile devices.

There are many benefits of digital manufacturing you can see when you add an additive manufacturing system into your electronics manufacturing process. The DragonFly LDM additive manufacturing system from Nano Dimension is adapted to fabricate electronic devices with a planar or non-planar architecture. Read a case study to learn more or contact us today if you’re interested in how the DragonFly LDM system can aid your electronics production.

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