3D printing technology is innovative and downright amazing. You can print just about anything you like from a digital schematic, using any number of materials like plastic, concrete, wood, etc. The most common 3D printer makes plastic pieces.
People have done some awesome things with 3D printers so far. Things like printing guns, musical instruments, 3D models and toys, fabrics and more. Companies have even been able to 3D print entire buildings using special materials and software.
So, by now, it seems like there’s not much else that can be done with the technology that will be truly disruptive, right?
A company called Nano Dimension recently announced that it has successfully printed 3D electrical circuits. The team was even able to embed electrical components inside the circuits, during the printing process. So, the circuits are totally usable.
How Is This Possible?
The Nano Dimension team engineered a special printer — called the DragonFly 2020 — which allows them to print PCBs, or printed circuit boards, with special ink that is both conductive and dielectric. In short, this means the materials are actually capable of conducting electricity — so they’re definitely usable.
As for the electrical components, they are strategically placed during the printing process. This completely does away with soldering, and it’s a more reliable solution since the connectivity is part of the native board.
The materials used can also be more durable than some conventional circuit boards, protecting the electrical components from mechanical-, corrosion- and temperature-related damages. As seasoned industry professionals know, the base materials used in printed circuit boards play a big role in the quality of the end product. Up until this point, fiberglass and aluminum have been some of the primary materials used to create circuit boards. However, we may start to see the addition of new materials, too.
Nano Dimension filed a patent to protect its methods of development, including its unique printer. This will allow it to safely release the technology for use commercially. The Nano Dimension team thinks it will be useful in consumer products, space, defense and more.
How Long Has This Technology Been Around?
It’s difficult to say just how long someone has been working on technology like this. However, Nano Dimension was awarded a $500,000 grant back in 2014 to come up with a 3D printer capable of making PCBs.
The biggest benefit of this technology is that components can be printed — or embedded — directly on the board. This allows them to shed their packaging and stay thinner, while being better protected.
Picture a circuit board. The black and multicolored jumpers you usually see all over a board have been soldered to the surface and coated with a special packaging. Now, they no longer need to be soldered or packaged, because they will be naturally covered by ink during the printing process.
Right now, there’s no way to know for sure when this technology will be available both to consumers and commercial entities. The Nano team only just filed its patents, and it will need to wait for them to be awarded. Then the company will need to enter mass production for its printer.
If the timeline is right, maybe by 2020 we’ll have access to Nano’s innovative printer. But that’s not set in stone, so don’t mark it on your calendar just yet.