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January 2015 • The PCB Magazine 27 their weight in bodywork and half in circuits and comfort facilities could save about 20% in weight by merging some of these into structural electronics. For a pure electric car that means a precious 20% range increase. New circuits such as telematics and vibration harvesting can also be designed into the structure saving even more weight without requir- ing any extra space. Pervasive wide area electronics such as photovoltaics over the whole airframe of an aircraft and sensing in places previously inaccessible has clear benefits in terms of energy efficiency and safety. Although superca- pacitors require more weight and size per unit charge com- pared to batteries they are better suited for embedding inside structural components due to their superior lifespan. Thus structural electronics may allow us to tap the other benefits of supercapacitors in- cluding reliability, fast charge and discharge, ability to be fully discharged for safe transit and in an accident. A typical car employs around 50 tactile switches and four rotary switches, both being relative- ly unreliable. For example, the overhead con- sole of a car with switches, lighting, etc., can be made much thinner, shaped and solid state with a saving of up to 40% in cost, weight and space and potentially an increase in reliability, including better waterproofing. Structural elec- tronics also has the potential to reduce up-front costs compared to traditional approaches. On the other hand, many challenges must be overcome if structural electronics is to fulfil its potential. Structural electronics needs to be designed into a structure such as a bus or a train when it is at the early conceptual stage. SE is often impracticable or too expensive as retrofit. Thin film, printed and other flexible forms of electronics are less efficient than bulk initially making it impracticable or too expensive to add more to compensate (e.g., more photovoltaics, supercapacitors or lithium-ion batteries). Flex- ible photovoltaics are much less efficient. Most forms of structural electronics will be costly, at least to begin with. Devices such as batter- ies that swell and shrink in use are difficult to contain in a structural material and when, after their relatively short life, they fail and need re- placement, the whole structure will need to be replaced, probably uneconomically and costing much time and ef- fort. Moving parts such as elec- tric traction motors, internal combustion engines, fuel cells and pumped refrigeration are out of reach, at least for now. In conclusion, 3D printed circuits are likely to become commercially available in 2015 and printers that can manufacture them are likely to become commercially avail- able by 2018. Initial applica- tions will include prototyping traditional PCB designs and embedded modular wiring in- side 3D printed objects. Early adopters will include PCB de- signers, start-ups entering into areas like wearables and the Inter- net of Things and industries that manufacture their products in small volumes such as MRI scanners and the space industry. In the longer term, 3D printed electronics may well become a competitive solution to a broader range of problems but that will require a great deal of time and effort as the technology is embryonic today. Functional materials such as dielectrics and semiconductors may be directly 3D print- able one day but existing technology is ready to make the substantial leap into a world of PCB islands in a 3D printed sea of conductive traces. Discover how structural electronics will cre- ate a $97 billion market by 2025 in the new IDTe- chEx report Structural Electronics 2015–2025: Applications, Technologies, Forecasts. PCB Structural electronics needs to be designed into a structure such as a bus or a train when it is at the early conceptual stage. SE is often impracticable or too expensive as retrofit. " " Dr. Jon Harrop is a director at iDTechex. OPPORTuNITIES FOR 3D PRINTED STRuCTuRAL ELECTRONICS continues FEaturE

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