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Why 3D Print PCBs Matter in Today’s Electronics Production

As technology keeps advancing, the PCB industry keeps improving. The PCB industry has experienced such a great change due to the demands in the electronic industry. PCBs definitely play a vital role in electronics production. Every electronic device needs printed circuit boards to function well.

Researchers have started experimenting what 3D can do in PCB production. Also, this experiment has yielded a positive result. 3D print PCBs are now commonly used in the electronics industry. In this article, we will be discussing the 3D print PCB.

What is a 3D Print PCB?

When we talk about 3D PCB, we don’t mean that the circuit board is three-dimensional (3D). A 3D PCB is a circuit board that is printed with a 3D printer. This board has its circuits printed on the bare board with a 3D printer. 3D print PCB manufacturing doesn’t involve etching of copper tracks on the substrate.

A 3D PCB has its circuits printed with the use of a 3D inkjet printer. This printer makes use of a gel or conductive material. Also, the 3D printer makes use of an extruder head. The printer can print the circuit on a bare PCB board.

In addition, 3D print PCBs are a better choice for PCB manufacturing. This is because they minimize errors and generate less waste material than the conventional manufacturing methods. Also, the use of 3D PCBs has a huge impact in electronics manufacturing.  

3D printing can produce both single sided and double sided PCBs. Also, it is quite easy to use a 3D printer on a flex PCB. However, it is quite complex to print a multilayer board. This can be easier with the use of PCB design software.

Methods of 3D Printing PCBs

In this section, we will take an overview of the two different methods of 3D printing a circuit board.

Conductive filaments

This method is an accurate method of 3D printing circuit boards with pre-arranged tracks on CAD software. Also, the printer prints around the circuits and leaves them open.  In addition, dual extruder 3D printers can print with multiple filaments.

Therefore, it is easy to print the PCB with the use of a non-conductive material. After that, you can use metal to fill in the tracks. For this method, you will need to split the design in two parts. You will need to model a pattern.

Also, this pattern must be only a few layers high. This pattern will be your traces already printed in conductive material. You will have to leave some holes for external components. After this, you will need to create a base print to fill in the spaces around and between the circuitry.

Hollow traces

This is the second method of 3D printing a circuit board. Also, the hollow traces method involves printing a block of material with internal formation of hollow tracks. Here, the designer insert the electronic components in it and connects by filling the PCB.

Also, the hollow trace method is easier than EDM printing. In addition, this method doesn’t involve any post-production soldering. Therefore, filament printing creates the board in which the components are attached to. However, this method is less capable of creating complex designs with several components. Also, you must consider the cost of conductive paint.

Advantages and Disadvantages of 3D Print PCB

3D print PCB has its own advantages and limitations.

Pros

Greater design flexibility

3D print PCBs offer greater design flexibility than the traditional circuit boards. This is because 3D printing offers PCB designers more opportunity. Also, designers can experiment with various layers, shapes, and forms.

Less waste products

3D printing only uses the required material for PCB production. The traditional methods of PCB production use excess materials. These materials can corrode or mill away. Therefore, this has a big impact on cost. There are no waste products through 3D printing. Therefore, this helps to save resources used for creating products.

Reduction in production cost

3D printing helps to reduce the cost of producing a circuit board. The cost of producing this board is less than that of other boards.

Quick design-to-production time

The design-to-production time of 3D PCB is much faster. This is because computers carry out the design and manufacturing process. Therefore, 3D printing features a faster design-to-production time than traditional methods. Also, this helps to increase production capacity.

Cons

Conductivity of materials

During hollow trace production, the epoxy resin can facilitate the conductivity of a circuit. However, this is less effective than metal.

Inadequate software support

The open-source design applications for PCB 3D printing are just few. These applications are better than other CAD programs. But, they are a bit inaccessible for savvy designers. Therefore, this makes 3D print PCBs more difficult for designers who are inexperienced.

Applications of 3D Print PCBs

3D PCBs are now introduced in some application areas. These boards are ideal for use in some high-end applications. Also, 3D print boards have proved to be very efficient in more advanced applications.

Aerospace

With the use of 3D PCBs, the aerospace industry has experienced growth. Also, 3D printing has helped to design double sided and multilayer PCBs. This printing is important for prototyping in an evolving industry.

Military

The use of 3D PCBs have helped to reduce weight and increase the design efficiency of military equipment and vehicles. Also, 3D printing offers the ability to easily design short-run prototypes that save lives.

Types of Desktop 3D PCB Printers

There are different types of 3D PCB printers.

Squink by Bot Factory

This is for experienced users. Squink is ideal for printing larger and more complex PCBs. This printer features 3 nozzles. Also, these nozzles are for printing, applying solder, and placing components.

Nano dimensions DragonFly 2020 PCB 3D printer

This is one of the best desktop 3D PCB printers. Also, it features the biggest volumes of PCB 3D printers. Therefore, it supports most conductive inks and paints for hollow traces.

Voltera V1-PCB printer

Voltera V1 is a great entry-level printer. This PCB 3D printer is compatible for several design software applications. Also, it features an excellent build volume.

Conclusion

3D print PCBs have improved the production of electronic devices. Also, the use of 3D printing has helped most electronics companies to take charge of their production processes. 3D PCBs offer a lot of great benefits.