PCB007 Magazine

PCB-Jan2015

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20 The PCB Magazine • January 2015 3D printing refers to the physical construc- tion of an object from a digital description through the selective deposition of material. Today's 3D printers have many limitations, but the boundaries are being pushed and exciting developments are continuously being made. One of the most promising recent develop- ments in the world of 3D printing is multima- terial printing, not least because it is the key to the emergence of 3D printed electronics. Today's commercially available multimaterial 3D printers are limited to providing a variety of mechanical characteristics such as rigidity as well as color and transparency, but the seem- ingly simple inclusion of UV curable conduc- tive inks could make these machines capable of manufacturing objects that contain conductive traces. This is naturally regarded by many as a di- rect alternative to traditional PCB manufacture and, in many respects, not a very good one. The logical application for 3D PCBs plays to the tra- ditional strengths of 3D printing: rapid proto- typing. However, the ability to lay down con- ductive traces inside a 3D object has far more potential. There is no longer any requirement to use flat designs. The added design freedom has the potential to greatly simplify circuit lay- out but will require a new generation of soft- by Dr. Jon Harrop iDTeCHex Opportunities for 3D Printed Structural Electronics ware tools. Furthermore, the natural evolution of this design freedom is the ability to embed electronics in the structure of anything. This is known as structural electronics. Structural electronics is one of the most im- portant technological developments of this cen- tury. It forms a key part of the dream, first for- mulated 30 years ago, of computing disappear- ing into the fabric of society. It also addresses, in a particularly elegant manner, the dream of Edison in 1880 that electricity should be made where it is needed. Structural electronics is of- ten biomimetic—it usefully imitates nature in ways not previously feasible. An example of this FEaturE

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