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28 The PCB Magazine • January 2015 There has been much talk in recent years about 3D printing, a type of additive manufac- turing that has been used to create everything from plastic toys and trinkets to high-end in- dustrial prototypes. In the near future, we will enter an era where electronic devices "join the club" and are print- ed, rather than assembled. They will be fabricat- ed layer-by-layer as a single object, rather than assembled from separate mechanical, electrical, and optical parts. Unlike today's devices that house PCBs within a separate shell, 3D printing will enable electronics to be embedded entirely within the structure of the device itself. Let's take a closer look at how we will get to this stage, and the implications it will have for PCB manufacturers. by Karl D.D. Willis, Ph.D. auToDesK How 3D Printing Will Impact PCB Fabrication Development No. 1: 3D printing Software When we talk about 3D printing, we're real- ly talking about several different pieces of a puz- zle: hardware (the 3D printer), software (used to prepare 3D models), and materials (the stuff that a printer is able extrude, jet, bind, cure, or sinter—plastics, ceramics, and other materials). Autodesk's Spark is an open 3D printing plat- form that makes it easier for hardware manufac- turers, software developers, materials scientists, product designers, and others to participate in and benefit from this technology. Spark encour- ages all members of the 3D printing industry to move additive manufacturing technology for- ward and push the boundaries of 3D printing. Development No. 2: Materials Innovation One of the key barriers for 3D printing has been a lack of innovation on the materials front. Fortunately, recent advances in materials science have enabled the combination of high-conduc- tivity inks with standard 3D printing plastics. FEaturE

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