Sep 24, 2019

The Benefits of In-House PCB Fabrication with Additive Manufacturing

pcb prototypingManufacturers are always looking for ways to decrease costs, increase throughput, improve quality, and adapt their processes to produce more advanced products, often simultaneously. Whether your company produces complex mechanical systems or unique electronics, your manufacturing process is a critical cost driver for your company. Innovative companies are exploring or actively using new manufacturing methods to reach these goals and create newer products.

Among the possible options for improving productivity, additive manufacturing is unique in that it helps companies achieve all four of the aforementioned goals simultaneously. As more additive processes are perfected and newer systems are commercialized, additive manufacturing is becoming a competitive option for improving productivity in many industries. This spans beyond rapid prototyping—newer systems can be used for full-scale in-house PCB fabrication of complex products, including advanced electronic devices.

Team preparing a design for in-house PCB fabrication

Additive manufacturing systems are ideal for in-house PCB fabrication.

Electronics companies can see many benefits from using additive manufacturing for in-house PCB fabrication. As a cost-competitive set of fabrication methods, additive processes allow for onshoring manufacturing capabilities for complex electronics. When these capabilities are brought in-house, companies in highly regulated industries, such as defense and medical devices, can take greater control over product quality, intellectual property protection, and cost structure. Moreover, bringing these capabilities in-house helps hasten the R&D process for complex electronic devices.

Growing Possibilities From Prototyping to In-House Production

Many companies are discussing in-house additive manufacturing capabilities in terms of rapid prototyping. The ability to produce a single mechanical or electronic functional prototype in-house with an additive system helps keep prototyping costs and fabrication time low during the development phase. These functional prototypes can be tested immediately, allowing a designer to quickly evaluate quality and functionality. Overall, these characteristics of in-house additive systems hasten R&D cycles and help decrease time to market.

While bringing additive processes in-house is extremely useful for rapid prototyping and experimentation as part of your R&D process, additive systems can be easily incorporated into newer manufacturing methods, such as digital manufacturing and lights out manufacturing for full-scale production. Newer additive systems that use a variety of processes are coming online, giving manufacturers many options for fabricating complex mechanical or electronic components for use in a variety of applications.

Additive manufacturing systems are also being used for in-house fabrication of components that appear in traditionally manufactured systems. By redesigning and simplifying certain components to be fabricated with an additive process, designers can eliminate unnecessary fasteners and assembly steps, ultimately reducing assembly and materials costs. When coupled with the predictable production time and cost structure for additively manufactured components, manufacturers can additively produce complex components at full-scale within their traditional manufacturing processes. This is already being done at full-scale by companies like GE and other aerospace companies.

Benefits of Additive Manufacturing for In-House PCB Fabrication

In the realm of electronics, manufacturers can see similar benefits by adopting a layer-by-layer printing process for in-house PCB fabrication. Bringing these capabilities in-house provides several important benefits for full-scale production of complex electronic devices.

Predictable Cost Structure and Cycle Time

Additive processes are extremely time and cost-competitive—the costs required to fabricate complex components are independent of the device complexity. Instead, additive manufacturing costs only depend on the volume of raw materials used in the process, fabrication time, and the energy used to run the equipment. 

Similarly, the time required to fabricate a device is independent of the product’s complexity. This makes the cost structure and cycle time in an additive manufacturing process much more predictable than traditional processes, allowing low-volume manufacturing runs of highly complex devices to be more competitive in terms of costs and cycle time.

When it comes to the fabrication of PCBs, additive manufacturing eliminates tooling costs and redundant plating, etching, and pressing steps that drive up manufacturing costs, particularly for multilayer PCBs. Using a layer-by-layer process to 3D print PCBs allows designers to incorporate a complex interconnect architecture and board geometry without changing the cost structure for a new device. These more complex devices cannot be fabricated with traditional processes without significantly increasing fabrication time and costs.

Stronger Quality Control

Anyone who works in a highly regulated industry knows that product quality is critical, both from a regulatory perspective and from the customer’s perspective. If you offshore your manufacturing capabilities, you lose control over product quality. Implementing in-house PCB fabrication with an additive manufacturing system allows manufacturers to take greater control over product quality. This is especially important for novel complex devices that have not been validated for production with traditional manufacturing processes.

In-house PCB fabrication and quality control

In-house PCB fabrication allows you to take full control over quality and security.

Intellectual Property and Device Security

Any company that wants to maintain a competitive edge must consider ways to keep their intellectual property secure. Onshoring your manufacturing capabilities and implementing in-house PCB fabrication eliminates opportunities for unscrupulous overseas manufacturers to steal your intellectual property. Keeping these capabilities in-house also allows manufacturers to take control of their IT network security.

Many electronic devices that are used in defense systems require some physical layer security measures to prevent board-level tampering. When you work with an external manufacturer, you have to trust that your security measures will not be exposed to a third party. In-house PCB fabrication allows a company to design and implement physical layer security measures at the board level without exposing these measures to a third party.

Unleash Innovation with Additive Manufacturing and In-house PCB Fabrication

In addition to the cost, cycle time, quality, and security benefits of in-house PCB manufacturing, using an additive manufacturing system for electronics production frees engineers from the design constraints imposed by traditional manufacturing processes. As more additive systems come online and the range of useful materials increases, designers will have greater freedom to innovate and create more complex products.

When you’re designing and producing PCBs for unique electronic products, you need an adaptable in-house PCB fabrication system that provides predictable lead times and cost structure for low-volume, high-complexity devices. The DragonFly LDM additive manufacturing system from Nano Dimension is ideal for in-house PCB fabrication of complex electronics with a planar or non-planar architecture. Read a case study or contact us today to learn more about the DragonFly LDM system.

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