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3D Electronic Devices With Additive Manufacturing


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Imagine fabricating PCBs without the hassle of drilled vias and metal plating. Imagine PCBs with near-perfect registration. If we take it to the next stage, imagine drawing electronics in 3D space. 

There is a way to do all this with additively manufactured electronics (AME). We just need to start to think in 3D. This will allow us to abandon the 2D limitations that we have become so used to and expand our horizons so that we can climb to higher levels of performance.

In this article, I will explore the two fundamental capabilities that are the cornerstones for drawing electronics in 3D space, which is where AME technology and 3D design capabilities converge.  

The First Cornerstone of AME: Isolation and Conductive Materials
More than a decade ago, we saw the rise of printed electronics (PE), which is printing of conductive traces on a predefined substrate. The substrate is fixed, can be planar or a 3D shape and the printing process—either inkjet, aerosol jetting, or any other method—places the conductor on top of it.

AME differs from PE because it uses more than one material. The simplest configuration for AME consists of two materials: one conductive and one isolation/dielectric. It has the potential to grow to more than two materials by adding combinations of different conductive and isolation materials as well as sacrificial materials to build channels and different complex structures. 

Why Do We Need 3D PCB Structures? 
The first stage of AME was to imitate traditional PCB 2D structures by building multilayer boards (MLB), plated through-holes (PTH), and microvias to prove that AME can replace “traditional” PCB processes. It certainly is doable, but it does not achieve the full potential and capabilities of 3D AME.

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To read this entire article, which appeared in the November 2022 issue of PCB007 Magazine, click here.

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