Printed Circuit boards are the heart of any modern electronic device. Even though there are different ways to produce a printed circuit board, designers have started creating 3D printed circuit boards through 3D printing. This is because advanced gadgets need PCBs that are effective, well designed, and durable.
Why 3D Print Circuit Boards?
Circuit boards are known as printed circuit boards because they were first made using stencils to print a special conductive ink onto a board or paper. But there is a big difference between the first printed circuit boards and the 3D printed circuit boards.
Generally, there are many ways you can use to produce circuit boards for a hobbyist or a professional. Some of the methods used include:
Here, the tracks are created on the circuit board using a laser cutter. They can be filled using metal to form the circuits.
Another method that you can use to create a circuit board is CNC milling. A CNC machine is used to grind into circuit board material.
Iron-on using Glossy paper
Once you design the shape of a circuit board, it is printed on glossy paper. Then the design is ironed onto your circuit board and placed in a chloride power and water solution.
The solution work is to dissolve the unwanted material to form tracks. The process is known as etching. Even though this method is affordable to many people, it can reduce the board’s effectiveness.
The modern and most recommended method is the use of PCB 3D printers. The printers are better for more advanced circuit boards because they eliminate human error and produce fewer waste materials.
How to 3D Print Circuit Boards
Unlike the traditional methods, the introduction of 3D printing circuit boards has given manufacturers the freedom to become more creative. In addition, 3D printing comes with numerous benefits.
For instance, the use of laser cutting or CNC milling leaves a lot of waste material. But with 3D printing, the machine only prints what is needed. The two main methods for 3D printing circuit boards you can perform at home include:
One method used for 3D printed circuit boards is the conductive filaments. The tracks are pre-designed on CAD software. In addition, the printers can manage to print multiple filaments.
Thus, it is easy to print a board using the non-conductive material and later fill the tracks with metal. Unlike the outdated methods, 3D printing has allowed designers to create unconventional designs. For instance, they can now create circuit boards with multiple distinct layers.
Moreover, this method has reduced the waste inside the device, making it more durable and rigid. Some engineers are also creating large and beautiful 3D printed circuit boards to be used in various sectors such as gaming.
These modern 3d printed circuit boards are more effective, do not require any special equipment, the costs are low, and they integrate wires internally to lessen damages.
By getting rid of previous design limits, the 3D printed circuit boards will shape the future of electrical devices. In addition, they will simplify development in sectors that depend on them.
The other method is circuit boards can be created through hollow tracing. This method prints a solid block of material with hollow tracks created internally.
Later, the electronic elements are inserted into the board and then connected by filling it with conductive epoxy resin or electric paint.
The advantage of hollow tracing is that it is an easy process and quicker than others. Moreover, the process does not need any post-production soldering. However, hollow tracing may not be good when forming complex designs with several elements.
Also, it would help if you considered other factors, such as the cost of conductive paint or epoxy. This will increase your costs.
Both hollow tracing and conductive filaments have pros and cons. Therefore, selecting the best method that best suits your needs is important.
The pros and cons of 3D printed circuit boards
1. Less waste material
One of the main benefits of using 3D printing is that there are fewer waste materials. With this method, only the needed material is used. But with the traditional methods, the extra material is corroded or milled. Due to this, the cost is reduced, particularly when producing large quantities.
2. Fast design-to-production time
Since computers do the design and manufacturing processes, the design-to-production time is shortened. Thus, it is more beneficial to create 3D printed circuit boards than traditional methods. Thus, the method makes production more effective and increases capacity.
3. Design flexibility
The use of 3D printing comes with design flexibility. Since you can use computer designs, the designers can try different shapes, forms, and layers. Hence, they have the freedom to try as many designs as possible.
Thus, it is a good choice for various industries, such as gaming, that rely on circuitry.
1. No Software support
There are very few design software programs for 3D printed circuit boards. But even though there are much better CAD programs, there is no software support. Most people struggle when looking for guidance or how they can use the program.
Thus, it might be a challenge to consider 3D printed circuit boards unless you have skills and experience in that area.
2. Conductive materials
The conductive paint and epoxy resin used in hollow tracing is made to facilitate the circuit’s conductivity. However, it is less effective than metal. Thus, based on your project, you may have some problems. Therefore, when designing the 3D printed circuit boards, make sure you put that into consideration.
3. Risk of soldering
When using the conductive filament method, you need to solder the electronic elements to the 3D printed circuit boards you have created. If the soldering is not done properly, it can weaken the board.
Soldering irons are normally heated up to 300°C. This is enough to harm the 3D metal on the board. Even though it is easy to do when you are skilled and experienced, a slip of the hand can undo all your hard work.
The manufacturer of 3D printed circuit boards is just beginning. However, it has proved itself in many industries when producing more advanced electronics. Happily, the benefits outshine the disadvantages. Hence, 3D printed circuit boards will be a precious piece in almost all modern electronics.
Author: Barret Zhang
Barret loves DIY-related technology and writes awesome posts for you because you are the best tech fans in the world. You can email Barret to tell him about your favorite ideas, or to talk about really loud [email protected] Oh – Barret reads all your awesome Amazon reviews and likes to know what you want to read.