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Design007-Nov2019

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94 DESIGN007 MAGAZINE I NOVEMBER 2019 ible circuits of unlimited length as well as an economical run unit of one circuit because the data was all digital. That simple idea got the company funded, and while the process was demonstrated, the market was not ready. To- day, technologies for direct web printing of cir- cuits are available that allow those same possi- bilities but with capabilities in terms of circuit feature sizes that we did not dare to dream of back then. Fast forward to the early 2000s when Sei- ko Epson showed off a multilayer printed cir- cuit where each layer of dielectric and conduc- tors was printed in sequence, producing some very fine circuit details. The technologies have continued to advance and improve, and it was technologies like this that inspired personal confidence that it would be possible to print circuits directly onto the planar termination of component contacts, bypassing the soldering step altogether. The inspiration was provided to me as a re- sult of my years-long opposition to the EU's lead-free mandate. In the end, I christened the new solderless approach to manufacturing idea "The Occam Process," owing its simplic- ity and adherence to the principle of Occam, who said, "It was vanity to do with more that which could be done with less." The process eliminated the most vexing process step of all in the manufacture of electronics—soldering and all of its negative attributes. And for those who doubt the assertion of solder being a highly problematic technology, I invite you to look at any issue of any elec- tronics journal, magazine, or newsletter, past or present, and count how many articles and papers have solder as a central theme: mate- rials, equipment processes, defect detection (and continually promised mitigation), and failure analysis. Then, you can determine what percentage of the total number of articles they represent. Today, it is possible to build electronic as- semblies without the use of solder with existing equipment (à la Occam). It involves a simple reversal of the process, that is to build a com- ponent board first and then additively apply the circuits in a buildup fashion. For those with nection manufacturing industry could be on the verge of a manufacturing renaissance. The fundamental concept of additive man- ufacturing of circuits is quite old, with roots that extend back to the birth of the industry in the 1940s. At that time, engineers and tech- nology visionaries were exploring many new and different methods for printing electronic circuits, using combinations of conductive and insulating materials. They had the right idea at the time, but because the available equip- ment, materials, and processes were limited in terms of their capabilities, it remained largely a fringe technology limited to circuits that op- erated at relatively high voltages and low cur- rents, such as keyboards for electronic prod- ucts and methods that are still used today. The additive concept was picked up again by major OEMs, such as AT&T's Western Electric was making full additive PCBs in 1963 The pro- cessing was slow, however, taking many hours to build the copper metal to the desired thick- ness. It was advanced by the concept of semi- additive processing, which is heavily used to- day to manufacture high layer count PCBs for high-density circuit products used in many high-performance products. Following my personal journey, I joined a small startup company (ultimately called Ex- tend Length Flex (ELF) Technologies) in 1990. The founders had developed a technology for laser printing a catalytic toner which they in- tended to use to make interlayers; however, I convinced them that the technology would be ideally suited to laser printing the catalyt- ic toner on a web of material to create flex- The fundamental concept of additive manufacturing of circuits is quite old, with roots that extend back to the birth of the industry in the 1940s.

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