PCB007 Magazine

PCB-Jan2015

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30 The PCB Magazine • January 2015 Voxel8, a Massachusetts-based startup, has made intriguing progress in this area, bringing novel materials to 3D printing. Their materi- als allow them to print embedded conductors, wires, and batteries into the normal matrix ma- terials of 3D printing. This type of breakthrough means the design and fabrication of 3D circuits is now possible, with multimaterial 3D printers presenting a large area of opportunity. The result? When you press "print," you can create not only the physical component of the object itself, but also the sensing component that allows it to sense its environment, take action, and do things. As the Internet of Things gains momentum and creates more and more connected devices, this type of ability becomes increasing- ly important. Development No. 3: New Design Tools Despite these advance- ments in 3D printing and ma- terials, numerous challenges re- main, not least of which is how to design conductive circuits in 3D. Until now, the software for designing 3D circuits for use with 3D printing simply did not exist. New tools currently under develop- ment will let designers create 3D circuits inte- grated into CAD models, providing electronics and 3D printing enthusiasts with the ability to place components, route 3D traces, and fab- ricate their devices using multi-material elec- tronics 3D printers. Circuit prototyping can be done incredibly quickly. Even more exciting is the ability to design and fabricate circuits that were not pre- viously possible. Wires can be routed in three dimensions to make compact circuits in arbi- trary 3D shapes, components can be embed- ded inside prints to create very robust devices, and each circuit can be customized entirely. Implications for PCB Manufacturers Thanks to these developments, many of the building blocks for advanced functional 3D printing are already in place. This means that PCB manufacturers will no longer manufacture the PCB and the housing as separate objects. Instead they will design and fabricate both 3D objects with structural circuits embedded within. Disruption within the PCB manufacturing space is likely to occur on several fronts, start- ing with designers rapidly prototyping circuits that can also be made as PCBs. Some of these prototype cases include: 1) Rapidly prototyping PCBs us- ing 3D Printing before doing a PCB run. These circuits will be designed in conventional 2D board layout software, but translated into machine instructions that allow 2.5D printing of circuits on the desktop. 2) Rapidly prototyping hybrid electromechanical 3D structures before breaking out the design into PCBs and mass-producible parts. Think of this as a printed wire har- ness embedded into the structure of your physical 3D model. Instead of manually connecting wires, robust printed con- nections can be made between a PCB and com- ponents, such as buttons, displays, and sensors. Further disruption will occur through the creation of designs that cannot be made as PCBs. Some of these end-manufacture use cases include: 1) Hearing aids. Hearing aids are predict- ed to be a $3.2 billion market by 2020. Their resale price is $36,000/ounce; compare that to gold ($1,300/ounce) or the iPhone 4 ($132/ ounce). These are highly integrated electronics in a bespoke shape, and they must be robust, small, and with embedded electronics. All of these factors make them a natural fit with the new developments in 3D printing. 2) Cellphone antennas. Advances in 3D printing mean that cellphone antennas can be integrated into the mechanical structure of the Circuit prototyping can be done incredibly quickly. Even more exciting is the ability to design and fabricate circuits that were not previously possible. " " HOW 3D PRINTING WILL IMPACT PCB FABRICATION continues FEaturE

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