Engineers Create the First Double-Sided 10-Layer PCB Using 3D PrintingMay 22, 2020 by Gary Elinoff
A new project indicates the value of 3D printing in PCB design: fast prototyping.
This week, HENSOLDT announced that using a newly-developed dielectric polymer and conductive inks from Nano Dimension, the company has successfully assembled the first 10-layer printed circuit board (PCB) mounting electronic components on both sides of the board.
HENSOLDT's 10-layer PCB is populated on both sides. Image used courtesy of HENSOLDT
This the first time that a 3D-printed board has been able to stand up to the tough soldering process that dual-sided boards require.
The Possibilities of Additive Manufacturing and 3D Printing
Building a multi-layer PCB is an expensive, time-consuming prospect. But, until a manufacturer produces such a board, the product is just a dream that only exists in the memory cells of a simulator. What’s needed is a fast, inexpensive way to come up with a real-world, physical prototype.
Enter additive manufacturing.
A complex board can be generated at a relatively low expense—and in a day, not weeks. In the development stage, few things are more frustrating than kludging a board to reflect a modified design.
With the fast turnaround enabled by additive manufacturing, an up-to-the-minute board is quickly made available. Additionally, for low-run products, using PC printing can serve the whole product cycle, and engineering changes can be easily accommodated at greatly reduced time and expense for fast-evolving devices.
Finally, additive manufacturing can be a great aid in impedance control, which requires precise fabrication of PCB interconnects.
The interconnect architecture in a 3D-printed circuit board (left) looks similar to the architecture in an IC (right), eliminating the use of standard vias. Image used courtesy of Nano Dimension
As described by Nano Dimensions, employing 3D printing for PCBs fabrication allows designers to go beyond the standard trace geometries available with standard planar manufacturing processes, ensuring tight impedance control.
HENSOLDT and Nano Dimension’s Long-Term Partnership
As we previously reported, HENSOLDT has been employing Nano Dimension’s Dragonfly technology for 3D printing.
The DragonFly LDM. Image used courtesy of Nano Dimensions
This additive manufacturing platform integrates an inkjet deposition printer with its own nano-inks and 3D software. The unit prints electronic circuits such as antennas, capacitors, PCBs, and sensors.
The DragonFly LDM features two printheads, one for dielectric polymer ink and the other for nano-Silver conductive ink. Image used courtesy of Nano Dimensions
The dual printhead arrangement allows the DragonFly LDM to simultaneously print with both dielectric polymer ink and conductive ink in a single print job, hastening the time to completion.
Nano Dimension’s Conducting and Polymer Inks
Nano Dimensions offers both conducting and polymer inks, including its AgCite Nanoparticle Silver Ink and its Dielectric Nanoparticle Polymer Ink.
AgCite Nanoparticle Silver Ink. Silver particles of 10 to 100 nanometers in size are controlled for shape and particle dispersion, enabling the ink to be optimized for applications such as RFID and OLED components while maintaining excellent conductivity, adhesion, and flexibility.
Nano Dimensions offers nano-inks that are customized for additive manufacturing. Image used courtesy of Nano Dimensions
Dielectric Nanoparticle Polymer Ink. Polymer inks are designed to complement the conductive silver inks and can accommodate width tolerances down to hundreds of microns. To live up to the challenges of multilayer PCB printing, important properties in adhesion, thermal dissipation, and flammability have been designed in.
3D Manufacturing: Best for Prototyping and Short Runs
Manufacturers such as HENSOLDT can use additive manufacturing to great advantage. HENSOLDT's CEO Thomas Müller explains, “Military sensor solutions require performance and reliability levels far above those of commercial components. To have high-density components quickly available with reduced effort by means of 3D printing gives us a competitive edge in the development process of such high-end electronic systems.”
While many observers mistakenly tout 3D manufacturing as a way to mass manufacture simple products, the real future of the technology seems to lie in prototyping and short-run devices. And for manufacturers like HENSOLDT who need the very tightest control, the technology may prove to be a game-changer.
Have you ever toyed with 3D printing in circuit board design? Share your experiences in the comments below.