Can you 3d print circuit boards? If so, this article is for you. We will explore all the different ways to make a PCB and how it can be done with a 3D printer.
We will also cover some of the best research on the topic as well as provide an overview of what we found.
This post concludes with a list of links that are helpful if you want to learn more about making your own circuits boards with a 3D printer. It’s our hope that this blog post inspires anyone who has been thinking about learning more about electronics or creating their own circuitry to take the leap and start experimenting!
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Can you print circuit boards (Pcbs)?
The way to 3D print a circuit board is to put down a thin line of metal on the 3D printer. This is like what you find on regular boards. There are two types of metal: silver and copper. Silver is fast to print, but it’s not very conductive. Copper is slow to print, but it does allow electricity through.
To start with silver will be fine. It will work for your project, to begin with.
But if you intend on mass producing them you might consider copper which is much better at transferring the electric current than silver so it takes more effort to produce them in silver than in copper because once they are laid out they do not need much support material since it acts like liquid metal wiring and doesn’t resist to the printing process like ordinary filaments.
You can also insert prints of plastic or even wood or any other electrical insulator that would act as a separator between the 2 types of metal (silver and copper) to make the finished product even more like real circuit boards.
Once you have printed your board in whichever metal or separator and insulator material has been chosen for this project, all that is left to do is solder components.
Since our 3D printer prints silver, which is not superconductive, we need to add copper wires between the pins on the components and the traces (the paths) on the boards. This can be done by soldering wire onto tiny spots of exposed copper from where we removed support material.
3D printed circuits conductive filament (printed circuit)
If you wanted to print your own circuits, what would you use? Conductive ink? But what if that ink were made of metal particles suspended in goo?
What other materials could be substituted for the ink entirely – could you print circuits out of other substances that conduct electricity, like say wood or sugar?
Researchers at Vanderbilt University have developed an affordable conductive filament that can be used with consumer-grade 3D printers.
The material is still under development (it only conducts electricity 30% as well as traditional conductive filaments right now), but it might someday be possible to print batteries and solar cells using existing equipment – no need to retool the manufacturing process! “This may change the economics of the 3D printing industry, which is primarily aimed at the consumer market,” said [researchers John (Jay) William Rogers and John Paul Strasser ]. “This opens up a whole new end market that will be aimed primarily at electrical applications.”
Rogers and Strasser have partnered with Enthone Inc. to develop this material for commercial use.
The conductive filament can’t be used by itself yet – it must first be incorporated into a 3D printed structure containing microchannels in order to function as a wire or battery.
If you print an electronic device out of the new filament, that device would have limited functionality until after being embedded in another larger circuit board or chip. In addition, the filament’s coating has been shown to degrade when it comes into contact with certain chemicals used in 3D printing.
The researchers tested a variety of metal combinations, including silver/carbon and brass/carbon, but the only one that actually worked was stainless steel – everyone gave up on using other metals due to “technical challenges,” so right now this filament is made of nothing but steel.
The challenge will be balancing cost and performance: depending on how cheap this material becomes, manufacturers could outfit their printers with conductive filaments instead of traditional plastic ones.
Can You 3d Print Circuit Boards?
How to Etch a PCB?
The equipment you need to etch a PCB can be found at your local Harbor Freight store! The HF 8 1/2 X 11″ Multipurpose Work Bench Mat is a great platform for etching boards because it’s made of polyvinyl chloride material and resists most chemicals
The green color also provides good contrast for use with photographic or photoluminescent processes. You can get this mat in the plastic section, at the front of the store. It was $7.99 plus tax when I got mine during their 50% off holiday sale so it should be available at most stores right now for around $4 USD.
What Chemicals? Reply?
Rit Liquid Dye -$3-6 USD for a small bottle
Washing soda, found in the laundry section of most stores ~$1-2 USD for a large bag.
Hydrogen Peroxide – $5-10 USD for a large bottle (for darker PCBs)
Acetone -$3-6 USD for a small bottle.
A plastic container to mix all of your chemicals in. If you have some repurposed water or milk jugs around the house you can use them! Just make sure they’re very clean and free of soap residue before using them with chemicals.
Can You 3d Print Circuit Boards? (cre: interestingengineering)
How do you etch?
I’m not going to go into detail on how to etch a PCB. There are oodles of etching Instructables and videos out there that give you step-by-step instructions on how to do it.
If you’ve never etched aboard, here’s what I would suggest:
Pick a circuit design from the web, or draw your own – make sure it has at least 2-3 layers. Print out the board onto transparency film using an inkjet printer onto high setting if possible. Make sure any text is legible once transferred then cut out each layer with scissors before transferring them onto the work mat in order starting with the topmost layer first (copper side facing down.) Cover each additional copper/component layer with another piece of transparency until all layers are covered.
Rinse your PCB in water with dish soap to remove any dirt or grime, then dry completely.
Transfer images to the mat by placing the transparency film over the top layer of your board and exposing it under a bright light for at least 30 seconds before peeling off all layers except for copper.
Tape down your topmost copper layer with blue painter’s tape (or something similar) leaving room around each edge. Remember – you can always cut wider lines out but not narrower ones!
Repeat steps 2-5 if necessary until all of your images is transferred onto the mat. If possible, make sure there are no shadows from one image on another – unless you want to shadow effects when etching!
Place distilled water into a plastic container and add several scoops of washing soda to the water. Stir until dissolved and place your mat in the solution, making sure no bubbles are trapped on top where images lay.
3D printing electronic component (printer)
3D printing electronic component-slike small gadget is just brilliant and creative, but what if we talk about printing a complete gadget. That would be very interesting to see something like this has been done by some guys who printed mobile phones with 3D printers.
There are many companies all over the world working on new design concepts so that they can launch a new line of gadgets with lots of more features which must attract technology lover buyers in every corner of the world.
This creativity thing is not limited to only look or design but also expanding their reach towards different technological uses for example these printed mobile phones use a Bluetooth system that lets you connect your device via Bluetooth technology with any other device which also supports Bluetooth.
Designers who worked on this concept are not new to 3D printing as they have used FDM (fused deposition modeling or typical filament-based) type of printer for 3d printing and after their work, the result comes out looks like a real mobile phone with a keypad and working screen too.
It’s made up of plastic material so it’s less durable but good enough to be used by anyone who does not need his gadget for rough use like construction workers or laborers where it can get broken very easily if dropdown.
I think we should appreciate their efforts and we expect some more creativity in near future too because there is no limit to 3D printing and every day we can see some new gadget makes its place to the world market.
When you go outside to make some calls, do not forget your 3D-printed cellular phone. This is our new project, a fully printable cell phone which can be easily transformed into an Openmoko FreeRunner clone. The new version of the case has space for electronics, batteries, and buttons that will allow you to use it as a real cell phone.
The total volume is less than 1 liter (0.42 gallons) and you can see all parts of the inner structure with transparent material. The prints are standing up about 25 cm (10 inches), so it seems like this could fit on top of most printers. As always, if you don’t have access to one of those, you can order the parts from Shapeways.
Can You 3d Print Circuit Boards? (cre: instructables)
3D printed circuit board company
3D printed circuit board company, MassMind wrote in to tell us about their new system for finding bad SMD resistors, capacitors, MELFs, and other parts.
The problem with most “SMD analyzers” is that they are only good for testing components without solder. This means that they can’t find open or high resistance solder joints nor shorts between adjacent pins on the component where the lack of solder bridges them together. Additionally many are fooled by objects with a really low Ohms reading being just an arc that has welded the pins together rather than a short circuit. This makes it difficult to trust its output unless you have tested all of your components first using another method like ohm meter, reflow oven, etc…
Our new Surface Probe works by injecting tiny amounts of current into the pins and measuring the voltage drop across each pin at up to 200 kHz (20 nS). The resulting waveforms are captured and analyzed for open circuits, high resistance solder joints, or shorts between adjacent pins. These waveforms can either be displayed in real-time while testing or replayed later while looking for problems.
The next obvious question is “How much does it cost?”, well that depends on how many probes you need; they come in packs of 5, 10, 20, 50, and 100. For this example, I’ll my favorite 2N7000 N-Channel MOSFETs which you can get in packs of 100 for $2.54 each.
So if we just order 100 probes at $12.95/100 = $1.30 each, plus shipping (usually around 7% of the order or minimum shipping charge of about $8), plus import duties (varies but used to be 1% for US orders) and taxes (we are based in Canada so 5%), etc… The total cost works out to ~$6 per device tested. If you need to test more than that then this gets really cheap really quick!
Of course, I won’t use these on every board because it takes time and patience (especially when testing complicated boards with multiple components), but on boards with easy to see solder issues or where I don’t have a good idea of the quality/condition of the components, this is going to be my go-to tool.
The benefit to me as a manufacturer is that it saves me from wasting time and money on developing tests that don’t work well enough for some reason or another. For our customers, it means that we can offer far more accurate results and better information about their devices (like open resistors, shorted capacitors, etc..) and then either fix any issues we find before returning them back to you or offer credit towards replacement parts if they are too bad off for repair.
We will be offering these probes with various cables (maybe custom cables for certain applications like wireless charging, ultrasonic range finders, and such?) and in all sorts of configurations (like right angle probes for testing oddball pinouts) very soon.
Can you 3d print electronics?
In short, no. In fact, the custom solution for this is a pretty hot area right now. If you could 3d print electronics they’d be called something like 3d printed circuits or maybe photolithography masks instead of circuit boards. There are several different issues at play here:
-You can’t 3d print functional parts with any reasonable choice of materials and techniques currently known to the public.
This includes everything from thermoplastics to sandstone to nylon to the metal powder mix. Some people have created actual working devices using proprietary systems but even those deviate from what we expect as ‘3d printing’.
The other side is the component level stuff that makes up electronic devices such as diodes and transistors and resistors and capacitors.
These are all very tiny parts, which is why you don’t see people 3d printing the CPU inside their desktop or laptop just yet. -the last thing is that even if you can print functional components (like how carbon fiber has revolutionized some things like bicycle frames) it becomes exponentially more difficult to make boards with those components fastened on them at specified positions.
Those positions (called SMD pads) are also smaller than what most printers can easily lay down. So, while some of this will likely be worked out in future years it doesn’t really fall under the definition of ‘3d printing’ as we know it today.
Is it possible to 3d print satellites?
Absolutely, this is something that’s already happening. The first company to do this was actually SkyCube which launched its CubeSat into orbit in 2014 (having failed weeks earlier). Since then other organizations have gotten into the business of low earth orbit satellite deployment including Spire and Astranis.
In fact, SkyCube does not use a 3d printer for their nanosatellites but the next iteration of satellites by Astranis will be entirely 3d printed -likely with metal powder or sintered metals- and they’re hoping for a launch in late 2017 early 2018.
If you’ve ever seen any of the dozens of 3d printed rocket engine test videos you should be well aware that it’s possible to 3d print entire rockets if you so choose, but it’s uncertain how cost-effective they would be.
3d printing satellites? Sounds pretty cool!
Yeah, almost all spacecraft have at least some custom parts for them. If not there are even companies developing open source ‘plug and play’ satellite autopilots based around raspberry pi boards.
The point is that while launching a satellite can get expensive -running between hundreds of thousands to tens of millions USD- the manufacturing aspect has never been easier or cheaper.
There are several options depending on your needs which range from additive manufacturing to more traditional machining processes like CNC milling, turning, and lathing. Of course, this is all for the custom-built/modified spacecraft, but it does demonstrate how far additive manufacturing has come in the past decade.
Can You 3d Print Circuit Boards? (cre: makepartsfast)
How about 3d printing on the moon?
This one actually gets asked quite a bit considering there are several people who have already put forth the effort to do so.
Lunar regolith was used by NASA during testing of how 3d printers can process extraterrestrial materials and many companies such as Made In Space (the company which flew the first 3d printer to space) have created machines that can print using compressed oxygen or solid metals like aluminum.
If you’re wondering why we’d want to build stuff with only gravity 0.166 times what we’re accustomed to: It’s because space missions are expensive. -if having to carry every part with you is the only way, then you’ll quickly find that launching anything into orbit becomes cost-prohibitive within minutes. +the answer is yes, but it’s much more viable to use sintering (heated bonding of powder/pellets) than using 3d printers due to time constraints.
The lunar regolith has also been tested for its ability to withstand micrometeorite strikes and still retain structural integrity, which means we can already start building structures on the Moon today.
3D printed electronic gadgets
3D printed electronic gadgets have been around for a few years now, but just recently the technology has become more accessible to consumers.
The devices have evolved from being small and flimsy into something that can actually be useful as an everyday appliance. We’ve seen custom-made iPhones, calculators, and even toys as results of this technological revolution.
3D printing enthusiast [Igor Knezevic] decided to challenge himself and design a fully functional 3D printed mobile phone. The idea is not new, in fact, we’ve seen many other talented designers attempt to make such devices in the past, but [Igor]’s project stands out because it’s such a monumental task (he was doing this as his dissertation work).
He named his project “MorphPhone” and designed it to be completely open-source. It has all the necessary software, hardware components, PCB layout files, etc.
This article explored the different ways that you can 3d print circuit boards. It also discussed what materials to use and how material properties affect your designs. We hope this information has been helpful for those of you who are interested in learning more about 3D printing circuit boards! Let us know if there is anything else we can do to help, or if you have any questions.
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