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AMS Spring 2023

Electroninks to Make Particle-Free Metal Inks Available for Electronics Production

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Austin-based 3D-printing materials company Electroninks has announced that it will be making its proprietary line of metal organic decomposition (MOD) inks available to customers at production scale. The company, which received funding in February from intelligence community venture capital firm In-Q-Tel, specializes in producing inks for printed electronics and semiconductors.

The CircuitJet PCB prototyping printer from Electroninks. Image courtesy of YouTube.

In a press release, Electroninks’ co-founder and CEO, Brett Walker, referred to the MOD inks as the company’s “special sauce”, and noted, “Traditional conductive inks and metal deposition methods have been around for decades, but are slow, problematic, expensive, and not at all environmentally friendly. Our metal complex particle-free inks radically change the game. …[they] set a new standard for conductive inks in 21st century electronics manufacturing.”

The company also places a strong emphasis on tailoring its silver, gold, and platinum-based inks to customers’ specifications. Aside from working directly with key purchasers of Electroninks’ products — such as the U.S. Air Force, which last October awarded the company a $1.5 million contract, in large part to develop these same inks — the focus on customization is more generally built into the business model. For one thing, the company has worked to develop its inks so that they can be effectively used with a variety of printing techniques, especially inkjet, aerosol, and screen printing.

Additionally, the inks are categorized into three product lines, optimized for three main types of printed electronics end-products. The CircuitShield is designed for electromagnetic interference (EMI) shielding and back-end semiconductor metallization, and would thus be ideal for printed circuit board (PCB) applications. The CircuitWrap is best for touch screens and LED displays, while the CircuitSeed seems like it can be used for a variety of end-products, but is meant to be used in combination with more conventional electronic plating methods. In turn, the CircuitSeed inks, as the company puts it, can reduce “a 20-plus step process to a few steps”, while also using much less energy and water.

It’s notable that In-Q-Tel also recently made an investment into Fortify, a specialist in composite printing materials, including dialectic resins. Given the old comparison of 3D printing feedstocks to the razor-and-blades model, such an influential entity’s cornering of the market in materials could be a signal of a new period of growth for the 3D printing industry. Moreover, common sense indicates that Electroninks wouldn’t be making its inks available for production scale unless the company expected there to be a market for production-scale quantities of electronics 3D printing materials. This, along with numerous other recent stories, suggests that the 3D printing of phones and tablets could come sooner than expected.

Finally, the possibilities for using Electroninks’ technology for repair seem even greater than for production. The potential for 3D-printed chip repair could not only bolster supply chains in the future, but, perhaps even more importantly, would be enormously beneficial to improving the sustainability of the electronics industry.

To learn more about the company, check out our recent 3DPOD episode with Eletroninks CEO Brett Walker:

3DPOD Episode 101: 3D Printing Conductive Inks with Brett Walker, CEO of Electoninks

Images courtesy of Electroninks.

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