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96 PCB007 MAGAZINE I DECEMBER 2018 Consumer Electronics Stratasys has been working to combine its 3D printing solutions with Optomec's Aero- sol Jet thin-film conformal printing process for electronics. Optomec has utilized this pro- cess to develop a method of printing 3D an- tennas on the standard plastic enclosures and inserts of smartphones and other mobile de- vices. This process will allow different place- ments of the antennas, thereby reducing mo- bile device thickness. Aerospace NASA has been using this technology for over five years with a 3D printer built to make replacement parts in real time in space. Ac- cording to Astronaut Timothy Creamer, "3D printing provides us the ability to do our own Star Trek replication right there on the spot to help us replace things we've lost, replace things we've broken, or maybe make things that we've thought of that could be useful." Wow, what a difference six short years can make! 3D printing is now mainstream in in- dustries such as sheet metal fabrication, injec- tion molded plastic, machining, and die-cast. I have worked with companies in these indus- tries for over 15 years and can personally attest that they have embraced this technology and opened up new revenue streams in the mean- time. There has long been talk of utilizing this technology for PCB manufacturing, but it has never seemed to get out of the science project phase. Let's take a look at how other industries are utilizing 3D printing and see if there is a lesson to take for PCB manufacturing. Sheet Metal Fabrication These engineers have probably integrated 3D printing into manufacturing better than any industry, continuously developing new applications that directly improve operations and the bottom line. The first innovation was to print 3D press brake custom tooling (Fig- ure 2). The concern about the durability and strength of plastic 3D-printed parts is quickly dispelled while watching metal being formed in plastic tooling under the stress of a 150-ton brake press. Another breakthrough application was the ability to create part-specific welding fixtures to hold geometrically complex parts or orientations (Figure 3). Inspection benefits from similar tooling to hold these challenging parts in place on the coordinate measuring ma- chine (CMM) for quick a setup for first article and in-process inspections. Plastic Injection Molding Plastic engineers have developed hybrid tool- ing combining traditional steel with 3D-print- ed plastics (Figures 4 and 5). Some tools are mostly plastic, but the biggest innovation is to use 3D-printed plastic inserts—internal mod- Figure 2: 3D-printed press brake tooling. (Source: The FABRICATOR, September 2018) Figure 3: 3D-printed welding fixture. (Source: The FABRICATOR, September 2018)

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