Probably the most exciting thing about new technology is the sense of potential; they say that wisdom lies in knowing what one does not know, and new technologies are certainly full of unknowns. In the case of Israel-based Nano Dimension, what the company does not know is leading to development after development as their technology is being put to the test ahead of its full market release later this year.
“Because we’re such a new technology,” Galit Beck of Nano Dimension told me last week at CES, “we’re getting lots of companies coming to us with new application ideas: ‘Can you do this for us?’ We started with PCBs and are already seeing where the next generation of ideas will be.”
CES marked the second time in a matter of months I spoke with Beck and the Nano Dimension team, having met them and their highly-anticipated DragonFly 2020 3D printer at formnext in November. Standing again next to the DragonFly took away none of the power of this machine; the desktop-sized printer is fully capable of churning out usable electronics including multi-layered rigid printed circuit boards (PCBs). First unveiled in Q3 2015, we’ve been following the Nano Dimension story for some time now, as 2016 marked the deliveries to the first through sixth beta customers to work with their own DragonFly units.
2017 is already shaping up to be a big year for Nano Dimension, as Beck noted that the company’s goals include focusing on even better beta customers for the first half of the year — they’ve gained new customers since we last spoke at formnext, she said, including four big ones in the defense and aviation industries, though the well-known partners cannot be named at this time — and then, finally, in the second half of this year the company is aiming for the full release to market of the finished first-generation DragonFly 3D printer. At CES, the company brought two 3D printers to show; I visited the one in the Israeli pavilion at the Eureka Park startup section, while CBO Simon Fried was showing another unit with their partner FATHOM.
“All the companies here — focusing on the IoT and more — there are lots of new, great ideas,” Beck said.
Speaking to the possibilities of 3D printing electronics, Materials Manager Robert Even showed me the Nano Dimension portfolio of potential substrates. The company has seen proven success with 3D printing circuits on such materials as: PET, PEN, glass, consumer goods labels, cans, FedEx cartons, textile/nonwoven bags, paper, Mylar, stainless steel, FR-4, silicon wafer, textiles for wearables, brass, aluminum, and polyimide (Kapton).
“These designs, you start to go 3D and it changes your world,” Even said. “Doing 3D printing all in one shot shortens the product development cycle, with plastic housing and electronics done at the same time.”
The importance of this quality in manufacturing is underscored by the industries where Nano Dimension has been finding its beta customers: defense, aerospace/aviation, banking. These aren’t exactly small players or unimportant applications. Counting on fully functional, quickly produced — and made in one piece — electronics, these users are showing a great deal of trust in this technology, and continue to present new possibilities to the Nano Dimension team as they inquire about the potential for additional applications. Even noted that the company is looking to new materials to bring to market, and is fine tuning several for applications further down the road.
Because this company shows no signs of slowing down in its development or announcements, shortly after CES concluded Nano Dimension announced a new technological breakthrough, in combining 3D printing of rigid PCB series with flexible conductive connectors in a single print, a development through its Nano Dimension Technologies subsidiary that targets the IoT market and allows for a bendable PCB that can be used in products with curved or complex geometrical shapes. Nano Dimension has filed a patent application with the US Patent and Trademark Office for both the materials (including a “unique conductive ink with exceptional flexibility properties” and a “dielectric-material ink that enables rigidity and flexibility”) and process involved in the process. Digital control of the materials allows for their homogeneous integration during printing. The goal in this process is to address limitations seen in traditional electronics production such as, they say, “continuous transfer of conductors between circuits, loose contacts, size of connections between the circuits as well as fabrication of multi-layered flexible material.”Nano Dimension notes that, so far as they are aware, they are the world’s first company to successfully print multi-layered rigid circuits with flexible connections. To go along with this development, the company created software for the 3D printing of electronics-design files with flexible connections. This new software takes the user’s CAD files and utilizes an algorithm to convert them to 3D printable files.
Flexible electronics are expected to see significant market growth within the next five years in applications such as the IoT, aerospace/aviation, and wearables. Printed flexible connections as Nano Dimension has just announced will remove manual circuit connection from the process of electronics production, allowing for connections that can be bent and twisted while retaining strength. A potential application that the company points to is in a flexible watch, which could be thinner and more durable than one created using currently available production methods, as well as featuring variable flexibility properties depending on the proposed design of each watch. Without needing to manually add connectors, the printed circuits would increase the design potential while decreasing time and money spent in production. Discuss in the Nano Dimension forum at 3DPB.com.[All photos taken at CES 2017 by Sarah Goehrke for 3DPrint.com unless otherwise noted]
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