It is not difficult to sing the praises of 3D printing. This quickly evolving technology is transforming manufacturing workflows in many industries. Industries such as aerospace, healthcare, architecture, etc., enjoy the benefits of this manufacturing method. However, 3D printing leads the transformation of several other sectors. Chief among these industries is the consumer electronics industry. While 3D printed electronics remains an admittedly niche segment of the broad additive industry, it is arguably one of the most promising avenues for it.
In this article, we will discuss how 3D printing embedded electronics works. You will also see why thousands of businesses in today’s world now employ 3D printing electronic components. Then, we dive into what the future holds for consumer electronics with 3D printing. Let’s get straight to it!
How 3D Printed Electronics Process Works
Most people wonder, how can you 3D print electronics? Some even compare CNC machining vs. AM for metal prototypes. The basic premise of 3D printed electronics is the use of multi-material printing systems.
These systems deposit or extrude both conductive and insulating materials. Some companies employ the use of an inkjet system that deposits conductive and insulating inks to produce complex printed circuit boards (PCBs). On the other hand, others use techniques like Aerosol Jet Technology. This technique prints conformal interconnects on 3D surfaces.
However, research on how electronics 3D printing works continues. Other research initiatives are exploring the potential of creating conductive 3D printing materials for existing additive platforms, including FDM and multi-material technologies.
Current Advantages of 3D Printed Electronics
Despite being a relatively new innovation, electronics 3D printing is already making an impact. Thus, this robust manufacturing technique is well on its way to transforming the development and prototyping of electronics.
As discussed above, various global technology companies are already exploiting some of the benefits of 3D printing electronic devices. Some of these benefits include in-house production and more design freedom.
One of the most significant advantages of electronics 3D printing today is that companies can prototype PCBs and other electronic devices rapidly in-house. This, therefore, reduces the need for external PCB production services.
External services often add weeks or even months to product development. Consequently, consumer 3D printed electronics manufacturers can design and prototype new products more efficiently. It also comes with much faster turnaround times and with significantly reduced costs. Overall, having electronics 3D printing in-house enables businesses to speed up R&D significantly.
More Design Freedom
One of the key advantages of 3D printing extends to the electronics field – design freedom. The consumer electronics market has an increasingly high demand for small devices. Therefore, the ability to produce complex and compact electronic circuit boards is becoming more important.
The Future of 3D Printed Electronics
Although the current advantages for electronics 3D printing are worth highlighting, the future potential of the nascent field is really what is exciting. Currently, there is wide use of CNC machining in the electronics industry. However, 3D printed electronics hold the future.
3D printing embedded electronics may be largely limited to prototyping applications at the moment. However, additive manufacturing platforms are becoming more sophisticated and scalable. The technology will begin to transition into several production advantages.
As 3D printed electronics become more mainstream, the consumer electronics market will evolve rapidly. We are likely to see an emergence of next-gen 3D printing electronic devices. Customized electronics will also become a huge opportunity area. This is because manufacturers will have the ability to produce one-off or small-batch electronic components such as PCBs or sensors that can be fitted into all kinds of devices.
As a consequence of 3D printing technologies, we tend to see the unlocking of new applications. These include smart electronic wearables and next-generation medical devices.
Already, we are seeing designers and researchers utilize 3D printing to create wearable 3D printed casings for traditionally manufactured electronics. However, the ability to print electronic sensors and components directly can help print electronics onto flexible substrates or wearable materials.
Researchers from the Wyss Institute, for example, are working with the U.S. Air Force Research Lab to develop soft 3D printed electronics that could be worn directly on the skin. Technologies such as this could lead to more sophisticated tracking methods and monitoring the body for athletic and medical purposes.
The ability to manufacture bespoke electronic circuit boards could also add new functionalities to existing consumer electronics. Smartphones, vehicles, and other related electronics will benefit from these new functionalities. For instance, a reimagining of smartphone designs could be possible. Also, existing phones could integrate more functions due to the integration of smaller, finely shaped PCBs and sensors.
Fully 3D Printed Electronics
Looking further ahead, we can envision a future in which there is an entire 3D printing of consumer electronic products, including the casing and electronic components. This will require an advanced multi-material printing technology.
The technology must be capable of depositing plastic material for the enclosures and conductive and insulating materials for the embedded PCBs. Recently, researchers from the University of California San Diego made headway on a 3D printing project. They used Stratasys’ Objet350 Connex 3 multi-material 3D printing to produce a soft robotic form with electronic properties.
These researchers relied on existing materials (one carbon-reinforced material has weak conductive properties). However, they showed that it could be possible to print embedded sensors and electronics into 3D printed objects with more conductive materials in the market.
An Eye On 3D Printed Electronics
At RapidDirect, we know it is essential to not only follow current trends in manufacturing but also to keep an eye on the future. This helps us keep track of emerging technologies with the potential to shape and even revolutionize existing production methods. Electronics 3D printing is one such technology, and we are eager to see how it continues to advance.
Our current 3D printing capabilities are second to none. RapidDirect offers an in-house 2000m2 3D printing factory for all your 3D printing services. Ranging from FDM to SLS, SLA, and Polyjet, we help you get the best out of your project. High quality and short lead-time are our values, and our services are cost-effective. Upload a design file today for an instant quotation.
3D Printed Electronics FAQs
3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, helps to make three-dimensional objects from a digital file. This process involves laying down successive material layers to create the object, leading to its dubbing of additive manufacturing.
3D printing can help in the creation of custom electronic enclosures, earphones, keyboards, and other consumer electronics. 3D printing embedded electronics process is more flexible in design. It gives room for more detailing, and it is a faster and more cost-effective solution.
Yes. You can easily customize 3D printing electronic components to meet specific users’ needs. It allows manufacturers to produce one-off or small-batch electronic components. This way, users testing is easier and quicker, with a focus on customization.
3D printing is already impacting the manufacturing industry in innovative ways. It makes it possible for easy prototyping and product development. As you can see, 3D printing has so much to offer for consumer electronics. We may begin to see more standard 3D printing electronic components. RapidDirect can handle all your 3D printing needs. Contact us today!