Can 3D printing influence PCB prototyping?
The hardware and software powering today’s electronic devices have evolved at breakneck speed, but one crucial bottleneck remains – prototyping, in particular unforeseen and costly delays during PCB development. In response 3D printing is now being deployed in the production of professional PCBs delivering benefits in terms of time savings, costs and innovation.
While 3D printing is being used for a variety of professional and hobbyist applications, it is only recently that we have seen developments in this technology for electronics such as PCBs.
At each stage of product development, electronics designers and engineers have to get prototype boards in hand for testing purposes. The current standard subtractive manufacturing of PCBs is a multi-stage process that is labour and material intensive and is often outsourced.
Over the course of design and testing, the time spent waiting for complex prototypes can add up to weeks, hardly rapid prototyping. Moreover, 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, presenting a business risk to on-time product development.
Last year, Nano Dimension introduced a 3D printing system specifically designed for printing professional PCB prototypes in-house. The DragonFly 2020 3D Printer brings together an extremely precise inkjet deposition 3D printer, advanced nano chemistry and sophisticated software capable of meeting the needs of rapid prototyping and can significantly reduce the time spent on prototyping from weeks to hours – even for the most complex PCBs. This allows designers to build and test partial boards, or change designs on the fly. The result is that new prototypes can be built and tested on the same day.
The printer can also save money and even allow users to create models that would normally be difficult or even impossible to produce, or that would be time intensive using current manufacturing processes. Ultimately, this could increase the quality of the final product and even produce a whole new world of electronics.
The printer is able to offer high resolution, conductivity and speed. Quick prototype turnaround times and more frequent iterations mean PCB designers will have more freedom to express what they imagine, can experiment with different geometries and designs, leading to fewer errors and better products.
In the long run, the time savings can translate into increased efficiency, shorter lead times and cost savings.
In addition, incorporating additive manufacturing into PCB fabrication means that no raw material goes to waste, unlike when copper is etched or holes drilled by conventional methods.