Dear Colleagues

As we all know, most electronic-based equipment and instruments generally contain some form of circuit board and bits of wire to tie the individual parts together. However, the assembly and manufacturing process in tying these individual wires and circuit boards together and then squeezing them into a tiny space can take considerable effort and consume a huge amount of space.

As we have discussed in earlier blogs, it is now possible to undertake 3-d printing of items ranging from phones to instrument cases – printing one layer at a time. This is possibly the prelude to a personal manufacturing revolution where everything is done on the fly anywhere anytime. Not in a low-paying sweatshop as is often the case.

It is now possible to print electronics in three dimensions to complement this 3-d printing revolution.  Printing on circuit boards has been around for a long time. However, we can now do electronics printing in combination with the 3-d personal printing of the case (of the instrument, for example).

Conductive inks are critical
Xerox is currently experimenting with conductive inks to print electronic circuits directly onto plastic or textiles. Although copper is used extensively in circuits; silver is actually better as it is a improved conductor and can easily be used in the printing process. The silver is deposited in a tiny layer (five nanometers thick); thus being cheap. The printing of electronic circuits can be combined with the 3-d printing process thus enabling antennas, sensors and full electronic circuits to be printed “within” or “on” a plastic item (such as phone or instrument).

A Single Machine to make One Product
Instead of considering assembling electronics and building a case for an electronic device as separate processes; one can now do it all in one process. Printing all the millions of transistors contained in an electronic chip is obviously not possible at this stage. So a hybrid approach will be required.

Think of the huge potential possible with your applications…..

The uses of this technology are quite extensive and you can look around at the items you could make smaller or build on the fly and thus respond flexibly to demand and customise to individual requirements.

Thanks to the Economist for a great article on 3-d printing.

David McCullough’s remark is so true: Real success is finding your life work in the work that you love.

Yours in engineering learning

Steve