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34 The PCB Magazine • January 2015 For anyone familiar with 3D printing and PCBs, it's difficult to imagine a future where PCBs are not 3D printed. 3D printing promises to make PCB manufacturing faster, easier and more innovative. It is only recently, however, that printed electronics (PE) and 3D printing technology have started to catch up with imagi- nation. 3D printing is now at the stage where it is going from a fun, interesting approach to a serious contender that will change industries. An Introduction to the World of 3D Printing It's a topic that has been in the news a lot recently, yet 3D printing, or as it's more prop- erly known, additive manufacturing, has been around as a process for quite some time. The bottom line is that additive manufacturing nowadays comprises a range of different com- peting processes, including those that use heat, lasers, inkjet deposition or other techniques to add different materials, layer by layer, to build new or to add to existing objects. Each process by Simon Fried nanoDimension lTD. 3D Printing PCBs has advantages and disadvantages in terms of precision, materials, end-product durability and flexibility in terms of the objects and shapes that can be supported. As a rule, there is a cor- relation between price, resolution and range of supported materials. But 30 years ago, things were different. In 1984, Chuck Hull of 3D Systems Corp. devel- oped the stereolithography (SLA) approach. Here, UV lasers cure liquid photopolymers into solid objects. Imagine a container of polymer liquid where a laser beams down from above and solidifies the surface layer. After each laser pass, the object is lowered a little. Each solid layer is then added to until, in the end, a com- plete object has been built, from the bottom up. At the high end of 3D printing, the SLA pro- cess is still going strong and has been joined by Stratasys's sophisticated "polyjet matrix," an inkjet-based technology. HP has recently an- nounced that it is joining the fray with its own approach to inkjet additive printing. The 3D printers that are making their way into people's homes are generally of the ther- moplastic extrusion kind. This approach gener- ally involves a reel of plastic thread being heat- ed and delicately squeezed into place. Some say FEaturE

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