Looking at media and events usually provides direction to the needs and technology adoption rates. What are they talking about? What are the most read or attended sessions? Different aspects of additive manufacturing can also be seen to advance as they receive more coverage. While 3D printed electronics have been an option for 20 years, recent activities have shown processes to 3D print circuits and other electronics are moving from an interesting, niche topic.
Ken Church, CEO, nScrypt recently attended a printed circuit boards meeting and shared his thoughts on what he saw means for both the PCB and AM communities.
Perspective from Ken Church
All disruptive technologies have a beginning. By the time the technology emerges, it is typically not new. The revelation to most is new, but the actual technology has more than likely be simmering in the background for many years. 3D printed electronics is not an exception. The evolution of 3D printed electronics came from a combination of 3D printing and printed electronics. While the 3D printing craze is a few years old now, the reality is that 3D printing is nearing 40 years since the first patent. In terms of technology, that is old. Printed electronics has many beginning from screen printing to ink jet printing and which is also more than 30 years old. The convergence is also not an infant.
Researchers at Sandia National Labs convened with the University of Texas at El Paso and nScrypt almost 20 years ago to join those technologies with the prints done in a separate machine. 3D printing of electronics has evolved and is now growing in both interest and popularity. There are key indicators that will emerge to demonstrate this is more than a fad. These indicators are starting to happen.
For the first time in the history of APEX IPC, the major Printed Circuit Boards (PCB) conference and standards meeting, a new session called Printed Circuit Structures (PCS) was put in place. There were multiple presenters and a good attendance for that session, particularly in light of the pandemic restrictions. Seeing a program focused on manufacturing using one technology focus on 3D printing, is an indicator that a new technology is emerging and the industry disruption has begun.
Companies are no longer just imagining that printed circuit boards have to be flat. They can take shape providing a significant advantage in the number of electronic functions per volume. The PCB industry is constantly pressured to find a way to get more functions for less money and in smaller spaces. 3D printed electronics is on the front end of disrupting the PCB industry. Traditional manufacturers are not having to scramble to adjust yet, but they are recognizing that this is coming soon.
One of the key 3D printed electronic demonstrators at the IPC was the printed circuit cylinder. It removes the need to imagine and demonstrates that electronics can truly take on a new shape. What this means for 3D printed electronics is the beginning of a not so new technology that is evolving into newly accepted products. Performance always matters and 20 years ago, the performance was less than optimal, but today, performance is closing in on state of the art PCB. With the advantages of the 3rd dimension, it will pass the standard board.