3D printing or additive manufacturing is always hailed as a revolutionary "new process". Although the technology has been around for the last 30 years, still it is referred as the futuristic technology. Why? Only because the possibilities of this technology are expanding. Additive manufacturing has become a key manufacturing process. However, there are various areas in manufacturing, where 3D printing is still new. Electronics is one such area, which is yet to explore potential of this manufacturing. However, 3D printing is becoming popular with contract printed circuit boards (PCBs) manufacturers. Why? The post explores various reasons that have contributed to its popularity among electronic manufacturers.
A Brief Discussion on 3D Printing
Basically, 3D printing is a process, where an object is produced by successive addition of thin layers. These layers are placed on the top of each other. This process is performed using a 3D printer, which is attached to a computer. 3D modelling software is one requisite for creating 3D modeled parts. A 3D printed part can be created using various materials like plastics, stainless steel, resins, bronze, silver, titanium, gold, ceramic, etc.
Know the Underlying Benefits of 3D printing in PCB Assembly and Manufacturing
Today, electronic manufacturers are using 3D printing to create prototype PCBs, due to the following reasons:
Reduces Manufacturing Time: The traditional PCB manufacturing involves several processes, such as etching, lithography, packaging, etc. However, 3D printing incorporates all these processes in a single build process. This helps reduce the manufacturing time.
Easy to Build Complex PCBs: Electronics is one of the fastest-growing industry sectors. There is high demand for advanced and complex PCBs. Additive Manufacturing or AM allows companies to build complex, non-standard assemblies, as well as curvilinear shapes easily. Thus, PCB manufacturers are free to design innovative PCBs. Also, they can easily optimize these product designs with improved features, and fewer errors.
Easy Printability on Non-flat Surfaces: Building non-flat PCBs is always a challenge for PCB designers and assembly services following traditional PCB assembly and manufacturing techniques. However, 3D printing enables these services to experiment with non-flat surfaces. Some examples of such designs include solar strips, sensors, glucose testing strips, electronic wearables, etc.
Minimal Material Wastage: 3D printer enables PCB manufacturers to control the production easily. Although various advanced techniques allow manufacturers to minimize material wastage, still 3D printing scores above them. It allows them to lay down material whenever it is required.
Lowering Part Weight: Compact size and lightweight components are a hot trend in the PCB industry. PCB manufacturers are driven by challenges of lowering component part weights. Additive manufacturing helps them achieve their goals easily. It helps them gain control over accurate sizes, as well as eliminate separate wiring and cables.
Helps Avoid Chemicals: 3D printing is an environment-friendly process, because no chemicals are involved in it. Most PCB manufacturers conduct etching to remove excess material from the PCB. In etching, a chemical is used to remove the material. However, 3D printing helps avoid use of chemicals, because it is a controlled process, and material is laid only when required.
The above-mentioned benefits suggest, why 3D printing is gaining popularity among PCB manufacturers. However, with traditional PCB manufacturing, turnaround times may stretch to weeks or months leading to multiple iterations. This may seriously affect their time-to-market capabilities. 3D printing PCBs in-house will help PCB manufacturers to remain creative without risking the development deadline. This technique will also help cope up with the changing needs of customers, who demand customization, as well as miniaturization.