It amazes me how quickly people are figuring out new ways to utilize 3D printers to make various production methods easier and more economical. There is an ever expanding list of products other than plastic little doo-dads which have been fabricated via 3D printers. Some of these products are things you would never expect from a 3D printer, utilizing the technology in creative, yet extremely productive ways.
We have already seen a handful of ways in which individuals and researchers have managed to 3D print circuit boards. Such work could eventually lead to integrated circuitry within 3D printed objects, making it possible one day for printers to fabricate complete electronics. From what we have seen thus far, the basic idea behind 3D circuit board printing is to use an electrically conductive material to print the actual circuits. One Instructables users, going by the handle of ‘Mikey77‘ has taken a couple of steps outside the box, and managed to create circuit boards using another creative method.
Mikey77 didn’t actually 3D print circuits. In fact, he did the exact opposite by using his MakerBot Replicator 2 3D printer to help him etch the circuits on a copper clad board, using Ninjaflex filament.
First, using a free 3D modeling program called 123D Design, he drew out the circuit board pattern. He then equipped his MakerBot Replicator with Ninjaflex elastomeric rubber filament. He had to shy away from the typical ABS, PLA, or nylon filaments many of us are used to printing with, simply because of their lack of adhesion to copper clad boards. The NinjaFlex filament, on the other hand, sticks right to it and probably pretty much anything else one would try printing onto.
The next step was to adhere the copper board to the build platform of the printer. To do this, he used a spray adhesive which is available at Walmart, called Loctite. Once done, he needed to calibrate the printer so that the extruder was at the exact height needed in order to print a very fine layer of Ninjaflex on the copper board.
“There is a very small margin of error for printing a thin coating on copper,” wrote Mikey77. “To close and the extruder will clog, too far, and it will not stick well enough to etch.”
Once the calibration is complete, the printing can begin. As you will see below, once the print is done, it looks much like a typical circuit board. The only remaining step is to carefully peel the copper board off the build platform, and process it in a Ferric Chloride etching solution for approximately 40 minutes at room temperature. The Ferric acid will corrode the exposed copper cladding which does not have Ninjaflex on it, leaving the conductive copper in place under the printed circuitry, created by the Ninjaflex. You are left with a perfect copper circuit board.
Projects like this always amaze me, in that the 3D printer in this case was used in a way which most of us would have never considered to be an application for this technology. The full details on how to create you own copper circuit board can be found at Instructables. Let’s hear your thoughts on this uniquely creative idea in the 3D printing & circuit board forum thread on 3DPB.com.