Breakthrough PCB production method based on additive manufacturing

08-08-2022 | InnovationLab | New Technologies

InnovationLab has said it achieved a breakthrough in additive manufacturing of PCBs, helping satisfy higher environmental standards for electronics production while lowering costs.

Within the research project SmartEEs2, funded by Horizon 2020, InnovationLab and its partner ISRA have created a novel manufacturing process for copper-based solderable circuits. The circuits are screen printed and are compatible with traditional reflow processes.

Producing printed electronics is an additive process that does not employ toxic etchants and runs at comparatively low temperatures of approximately 150C, therefore, decreasing energy consumption. Moreover, the substrates employed in additive PCB manufacturing are up to 15 times thinner compared to traditional techniques, which lessens material consumption and means the production process has less waste.

It has produced a physical prototype that incorporates all the important blocks of a smart label. It utilises copper ink to provide high conductivity. Component mounting can be accomplished in a conventional reflow soldering process, which allows manufacturers to switch to the new technology with no investment in new equipment.

Multilayer layer printing, metal and dielectric, was employed to produce the target functionality: a low power temperature sensor and logger, an NFC communication interface through a printed antenna, and a compact battery that is charged from a printed solar cell, making the device fully self-sufficient. The new process can create standard and flexible PCBs with up to four layers and can be employed in product and process development for hybrid electronics.

Dr Janusz Schinke, head of Printed Electronics at InnovationLab, said: "This is a state-of-the-art production process, which will decrease costs and reduce logistical dependencies on suppliers while delivering three key benefits for the environment: consuming fewer materials, using less energy, and producing less waste. By the end of this year, we expect to have scaled this process to high volumes, meeting customer demands of a million solderable tracks or more."

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