With a New Factory on the Way, Nano Dimension Pushes for Widespread 3D-printed PCBs
Multi-layer PCBs are known for saving size and weight. Now, 3D printing these boards may be an option for more designers on a large scale.
Nano Dimension, a developer of machines for additively manufactured electronics, recently announced a new partnership with TTM Technologies to open the first additively manufactured electronics (AME) facility. This facility aims to create layered, printed electronics on a larger scale.
Combining Nano Dimension’s 3D printing technologies with TTM's expertise in start-to-finish design, development, and manufacturing, the collaboration will allow both companies to push for the widespread creation of 3D-printed PCBs.
What is the AME NanoLab?
Nano Dimension calls itself an industry leader in AME technology, from its Dragonfly IV fabrication device to its ink delivery systems. A few years ago, engineers at HENSOLDT created a 10-layer double-sided PCB with 3D printing using a dielectric polymer and conductive inks from Nano Dimension.
The Dragonfly IV printer.
Now, the company has expanded to the point that it can open its first AME NanoLab at TTM's Advanced Manufacturing Center in Connecticut.
The AME NanoLab will allow engineers to use the complete AME workflow, from design to prototype, to accelerate the development cycle for new electronic products. While the Connecticut location will be the first AME NanoLab, Nano Dimension is planning a network of labs in which users can use professional printers, like the DragonFly IV 3D Printer, along with any associated software. At these sites, customers can also receive critical training and consulting on their applications.
Nano Dimension's Specialized AME Technology
Nano Dimension’s AME technology is used to print high-performance electronic devices (Hi-PEDs) layer by layer. Some of these devices have complex geometries that can’t be produced using traditional PCB manufacturing processes. The technology works by simultaneously injecting dielectric polymer ink and conductive silver. The set-up enables the printer to concurrently print with both advanced inks in a single print job.
Visual of simultaneous multi-material AM.
Polymers used in the systems typically melt at over 100°C, whereas silver melts at over 900°C. The system injects them into the build process together and allows them to work simultaneously. Nano Dimensions says it has made a core breakthrough in the manufacturing process by enabling these temperatures to work concurrently. The company has achieved this feat using algorithms that control the delicate process in real-time.
Nano Dimension uses both silver nanoparticle ink and photopolymer.
Nano Dimension's DragonFly printer leverages Lights-Out Digital Manufacturing (LDM) technology to deliver round-the-clock uninterrupted 3D printing. It includes software management algorithms, automatic self-cleaning capabilities, and real-time automatic material monitoring, according to the company.
The advanced systems are said to maximize runtime and optimize equipment. The result is that users can 3D-print functional electronic circuitry faster, creating both one-off prototypes and low-volumes of printed electronics such as IoT communication devices, sensors, and antennas.
Nano Dimensions and TTM Team Up Once Again
This isn't the first time TTM Technologies has collaborated with Nano Dimension. In fact, TTM already owns and operates three Nano Dimension DragonFly systems at its Advanced Manufacturing Center. The investment has allowed TTM's engineering teams to tap into the advanced 3D-printing technology.
The partnership at the AME NanoLab Network site may allow customers to more easily explore the 3D space for Hi-PEDs while also reducing the environmental impact of electronics manufacturing.
What are the Benefits of 3D-printing PCBs?
While 3D printing has evolved rapidly over the past years, the production process for complex electronics such as PCBs has remained largely unchanged. Nano Dimension and TTM Technologies saw a manufacturing need to produce a high mix of customized PCBs in a less time-consuming way.
Nano Dimension says its AME technology offers some distinct advantages over traditional manufacturing. It facilitates the printing of several types of PCBs in one print step and enables varied proof of concepts to be printed on the same batch. With 3D printing, designers can go beyond the standard trace geometries of PCB design tools while delivering precise impedance-controlled routing.
Flow chart of traditional PCB manufacturing process vs. an AME manufacturing process.
The AME system is described as comprehensive; rather than being constrained by traditional design rules in platforms like SolidWorks or Mentor Graphics, for example, Nano Dimension's AME integrates the software used for design. This system allows designers to print certain coils or even 50-layer capacitors using design rules.
In addition, as more capabilities are packed into a single board, high-layer count PCBs are becoming more common. By using the right additive manufacturing systems, increasingly compact PCB sizes and advanced products can be produced more easily and at a lower cost.
An Industry Uptick in Additive Manufacturing
Because of pandemic-related slowdowns in the supply chain and trade wars, the electronics industry has increasingly found appeal in additively manufacturing PCBs, according to Nano Dimension CEO Yoav Stern.
The first AME NanoLab and those that follow as part of the network in the future will spearhead the ongoing development of new precision specifications. With so many varied use cases, customers are directly participating in refining the next generation of Nano Dimension’s technology.
All images used courtesy of Nano Dimension.