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Hardware Technology

3D-Printed Circuit Boards, For Solder-Free Printable Electronics 106

An anonymous reader writes "Check out the latest success of the OpenSCAD 3d-printed electronics library. To use it, you just need a 3D printer and some conductive thread. OpenSCAD generates a component holder, and conductive thread wraps it all together — no solder, no etching chemicals, no sending out for anything. The instructable takes you through all the steps from schematic to circuit, and includes a more useful example: the fully printed LED flashlight."
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3D-Printed Circuit Boards, For Solder-Free Printable Electronics

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  • by p51d007 ( 656414 ) on Sunday May 06, 2012 @11:11AM (#39908071)
    You are obviously too young to remember vacuum tubes. I have been working in electronics since the early 70's as a kid, tv shops in the mid-late 70's. I have watched circuits shrink over the years, from no circuit board (point wired tv chassis), to huge printed circuit board, to the switch over from tubes to transistors (and the RCA nuvistor), then onto LSI chips. A 25" color TV use to take two strong men to lift & move around. Now, a housewife can hang one on a wall. Given time, the 3d printing will shrink also.
  • by Immerman ( 2627577 ) on Sunday May 06, 2012 @12:27PM (#39908549)

    Actually even small quality injection molds can easily run into the multiple thousands of dollars, so while you're correct for commercial runs, for pretty much anything below that, i.e. most non-commercial parts, 3D printing is starting to look good, especially on the more robust commercial processes.

    I'll grant you the strength issue - I think it'll be a while before 3D printers become competitive in that realm, though milling machines don't have that issue. The architectural school of "mass customization" is beginning to take advantage of this - it's no longer dramatically more expensive to cut custom parts from base stock than it is to cut standardized parts - it's all computer controlled and comes down to how long the cuts are and how much material is wasted do to poor component packing on the stock. Especially if a structure can be built from multiples of only a few custom pieces it can rapidly be built by a few people given a big pile of parts and lego-style assembly instructions, offsetting the higher component cost with lower assembly costs (fewer, and potentially less-skilled, man hours required)

    At this point 3D printing is largely a hobbyist and prototyping tool, as is to be expected. After all it's only just starting to become affordable, and people are still exploring its potential. A few decades ago computers were in a similar sort of niche, relegated to hobbyists and research institutions. The 3D printing techniques that are being developed now are sort of the equivalent to the development of the bubble sort - poor performance, but it gets the job done, and thus expands the sphere of what's possible, allowing more hobbyists to explore a wider range of possible applications.

  • by michael_cain ( 66650 ) on Sunday May 06, 2012 @12:55PM (#39908805) Journal
    Any time you mention "solder", remember the temps involved and that the plastic structure used in the construction has to withstand those temperatures. Standard FR4 printed circuit board material (fiberglass reinforced, non-reversible heatset resin) is remarkably tough stuff. Even the most heat-resistant thermoplastics the industrial 3D printing suppliers are making available are questionable for standard soldering temperatures. And it's not clear that the hobbyist printers can produce the temperatures necessary to work with those higher-melting-point thermoplastics.
  • by julesh ( 229690 ) on Sunday May 06, 2012 @01:17PM (#39908967)

    Newsflash: PCBs have been around for decades and they are now approahcing the same density and complexity as early ICs. You think you'll be getting anywhere near that in your living room? Um, no?

    No, but the equipment to produce them costs somewhat more than the $2,000 a 3d printer will set you back, and will take up a lot more space than most people have available. Alternatively, hiring other people who already have the equipment will set you back $50 or so per board for small quantity orders.

    The fact that this could possibly be done with reasonably cheap equipment that a hobbyist can feasibly afford *is* a breakthrough. Yes, it's irrelevant to the professionals who will continue to do things in the better way that requires more expensive equipment, but for the rest of us, this kind of thing is important.

    (OTOH, the stuff linked in the article isn't exactly there yet...)

God help those who do not help themselves. -- Wilson Mizner