Take a look at the cellphone over the years – camera lenses have gotten smaller, features have exploded, but the size of the devices has stayed relatively the same. This is only possible by making the parts that enable this technology smaller, and this move for miniaturization has become a trend across industries. From the cell phones in our pockets to surgical devices used for minimally invasive procedures, engineers and scientists are designing products that are smaller and smaller. And with the final products shrinking, it means that the inner workings of the device, plus the pieces that hold everything together, must be made in micro dimensions too.
3D printing’s value add for OEM
As consumers demand smaller and more customizable electronics and the industry looks to push the boundaries of innovation, precision is required for parts with fine features and tight tolerances. More recently, the electronics industry has been capitalizing on the value of 3D printing for its ability to deliver highly precise, micro features with high resolution that are not typically attainable, or may be very costly to obtain, through traditional manufacturing methods. In OEM industries like electronics, optics and photonics, where the number of units needed does not require high-volume manufacturing methods, such as molding, 3D printing is able offer on-demand manufacturing and is a cost-effective solution to advance innovation.
New materials to expand use cases
As more industries look to 3D printing for manufacturing of certain applications, 3D printing companies are diversifying their qualified materials to ensure that customers have the right materials to print parts for various end applications. Whether it’s biocompatible materials for medical devices, ESD-safe materials for electronics or environmentally friendly materials, new materials are expanding the list of use cases for 3D printed parts.
Recently, Boston Micro Fabrication (BMF) and Mechnano worked to offer Mechnano’s proprietary Formula1µ Electrostatic Discharge (ESD) resin for use in BMF’s 200 and 300-series 3D printers. This allows customers to get the accuracy and precision they need from micro 3D printing with the surface finish necessary for electronic parts. ESD-safe materials are important because they prevent damage to products during the production process, and using them is not only cost effective, but can help increase efficiency of workflows and operations.
Similarly, new surface coatings for 3D printed parts are also aiding innovation by offering more flexibility in product development. Through a partnership with Horizon Micro Technologies, high-precision parts can now be coated with environmentally resistant metallic or non-metallic conductive coatings, which broadens the use cases for many customers. Both the ESD resin and new coatings aid innovation across industries, but especially in electronics where it was previously impossible to move from prototyping to production with 3D printing.
The future is 3D printed
Electronics is an emerging market for additive manufacturing, but certainly not the last that will benefit from 3D printed parts. With the qualification of new materials, coatings and the miniaturization movement, 3D printing is in a unique position to enable continued innovation beyond what traditional manufacturing methods can support. With 3D printing in the toolkit for product design, engineers, scientists and product designers will be able to move the needle in their industries further than ever before.
To learn more about 3D printing’s ability to aid innovation in electronics, attend the Additive Manufacturing Strategies business summit in New York, February 6 to 8, 2024. John Kawola, CEO of Boston Micro Fabrication, will be participating on Panel 1: 3D-Printed Electronics: Emerging Markets.
About the Author: John Kawola is the Chief Executive Officer-Global Operations of Boston Micro Fabrication (BMF). He has more than two decades of business leadership experience across the additive manufacturing, 3D printing and materials science industries. BMF is focused on introducing and scaling micro-3D printing technology to a range of industries that demand a high level of resolution and precision.
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