Aerosol jet printing (AJP) promises to revolutionize 3D printing in the IoT era.

Gone are the days in which printing means splaying black ink on a white sheet of computer paper—flexible and printable electronics are the new norm in an IoT age. And, while aerosol jet printing is relatively new, we’ve already seen improvement and innovation across the industry.

While Optomec offered the first series able to spray conductive ink onto 3D objects nearly five years ago, there have since been improvements that allow for things like printing 3D electronics onto three-dimensional objects.

 

Shortening the Time from Concept to Prototype to Test

Designers have always had to contend with the amount of time required to go from concept to market, which is one area aerosol jet printing hopes to be of service. A variety of companies have entered the marketplace in an attempt to solve this pain point, including a company named Draper, which equipped a 3D printer with conductive metal-based multi-material ink. In a recent press release, Draper asserts that this could serve as a form of sprayable electronics for PCBs and other electronics.

“Given that electronics are fundamentally multi-material systems, the challenge lies not just in material formulation but also material-material interaction including chemical compatibility, adhesion, temperature processing and induced stresses,” says Peter Lewis, Draper technical staff member.

 

Image courtesy of Draper

 

By using Draper’s technology, developers can print electronics on plastic, ceramic, and metallic structures at high resolutions, which Lewis says enables high-volume production. Lewis, along with team members Brian Smith and Robert White, fabricated a multilayer SoC microprocessor that underwent a variety of environmental and rapid aging tests. These tests provided exposure to wild temperature swings, thermal shock, and moisture, among other things. They showed conductive inks that remained functional throughout. The team believes that the added versatility helps reduce fabrication time for a microprocessor from weeks or months to a few days.

 

Image courtesy of Draper

 

White says, “In particular, Internet of Things (IoT) applications are a good fit because they require small, conformal modules integrating standard commercial off the shelf (COTS) components with a fast time-to-market and simple circuit customization/revision.” In an article in Advancing Electronics, the team expands on these ideas.

 

Expanding Aerosol Jet Printing for Industrial Use

In May, Optomec introduced copper inks, with a promise that they would “enable new classes of electronic devices helping to expand industrial use of 3D printed electronics”. Mike Renn, Optomec CEO, told 3D Printing Industry, “The general availability of both copper and copper/nickel materials extends aerosol jet printing to address our customer’s next generation product development challenges. Optomec’s advanced applications lab has already begun using these innovative materials on applications ranging from embedded sensors, thermistors and flexible electronic circuits.”

Optomec has also introduced manufacturing material recipe books, which include 24 starter recipes for customers for use with LENS (for metal printing in 3D) and Aerosol Jet. The company hopes that the release of these recipes will help customers implement manufacturing solutions more quickly. They’ve got print and cure instructions for the handling of specialized materials, post-processing curing procedures, and electrical and environmental performance data.

 

Image courtesy of Optomec

 

Vice President of Marketing Ken Vartanian said, in a press release, “These proven, pre-qualified recipes save weeks of trial and error while also enabling customers to fully leverage the advanced features of our printers to produce quality results. Over the years, we have screened hundreds of materials from a variety of suppliers and now want to make this knowledge available to our customers. These printing recipes represent an important first step in our strategy to provide digital products that facilitate additive manufacturing capabilities from design through volume manufacturing.”

 

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