OPTOMEC_300Examining a snapshot of the 3D printing industry, it would seem that the process of using a high-tech machine to deposit layer after layer of materials and make a prototype or part shot to the forefront of the industrial world—as well as the desktop—and then just continued to accelerate. Before you can get used to one idea, another mind-boggling innovation or evolution of the last one is put in front of you; for instance, remember not too long ago when you discovered that not only could we make 3D printed parts, employing a long list of wonderful new benefits, but we could also embed electronics within? We’ve followed a long list of companies involved in this area of innovation, from dedicating 3D printers solely to electronics to specialized conductive materials and inks.

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Mike O’Reilly of Optomec

Propelling the idea of integrating 3D printing and electronics ahead substantially further, now Optomec has announced that their famed Aerosol Jet Technology will be printing embedded electronics at the micron scale. This is a new benefit being heaped on all the others that clients around the world are already currently enjoying with Optomec’s Aerosol Jet Technology, which we’ve followed continually, from global expanses and uses to its role in 3D direct printing.

Now, the leading supplier of production-grade additive manufacturing systems for 3D printed electronics and 3D printed metals will be offering this new capability to their clients, allowing for even greater affordability and quality in products for both electronics and the biomedical industry. According to Optomec’s recent press release, this is possible through a combination of the technology’s current fine feature printing with a ‘proprietary in-situ curing capability for rapid on-the-fly solidification.’

The new process breaks away from tradition in 3D printing as it relies on both local deposition and local curing. Due to this, the user will find greater affordability, less usage and waste of materials, and best of all: superior resolution.

“This breakthrough in 3D printing technology extends additive manufacturing to the creation of micron scale, free-form polymer structures and smart devices,” said Mike O’Reilly, Optomec Director Aerosol Jet Product Management. “We continue to place emphasis on innovation such as Aerosol Jet 3D micro-structure printing to address our customer’s next generation product development challenges.”

This should gain quite a lot of immediate attention from the specialized group of innovators within the 3D printing space interested in 3D printing with electronics as now they can look forward to creating ‘free-form 3D structures at the micron-scale,’ and without supports.

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Aerosol Jet 3D Printed Micro-structure showing freestanding, millimeter wave dipole antenna”. [Photo: Optomec]

The Aerosol Jet 3D micro-structure printing process was explained overall in greater detail in a paper, ‘Aerosol based direct-write micro-additive fabrication method for sub-mm 3D metal-dielectric structures.’ Here, researchers outline the specific uses for this new and versatile technology:

“Electronic structures at sub-mm length scale are of great interest to be used as passives as well as antennas for wireless high-speed data transfer for emerging applications such as wearable devices, biometric devices, on-chip electronics for chip-to-chip, and intra-chip communication.”

Optomec states that this technology can be used with materials such as photopolymers and a range of specific composites.

“Additionally, the resulting structures can be metallized with conformal 3D conductive traces and printed functional components, such as antennas and sensors, to create fully functional 3D components all in one manufacturing machine,” states Optomec. “This direct digital approach optimizes the fabrication process, reducing manufacturing steps and material usage making Aerosol Jet 3D micro-structure printing a cost-effective, green technology.”

The Optomec team points out that due to its capability for printing ultra-high resolutions with lateral features sizes down to 10 microns, and lateral and vertical build resolutions from 1 micron to 100 nanometers, users are offered many great new options in 3D printing, with some even achieving aspect ratios of more than 100:1.

Further advantages of this approach include:

  • Structures can be printed on nearly any surface geometry by manipulating the tilt and rotation of the print head
  • Overhangs and closed cells can be printed directly, without using sacrificial support structures
  • Co-deposition of electronic and support materials can be used for fabricating 3D circuits
  • Composite materials can be printed, which enables tailoring of the mechanical and electrical properties of the 3D structures.

You can find out more about Optomec and their Aerosol Jet Technology here, and if you’d like to read more of the white paper discussing the aerosol based direct-write micro-additive fabrication method, see here. Discuss further over in the Optomec Technology Embeds Micro Electronics forum at 3DPB.com.

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