A Twist on Printed Electronics: Printing on 3D Shapes

Barry Matties speaks with Optomec’s Pascal Pierra about their LENS printer techniques and Aerosol Jet know-how, which permits producers to print functions like sensors and antennas on 3D objects. The course of is considerably sooner and greener than competing applied sciences.

Barry Matties: Pascal, why do not you begin by telling our readers somewhat bit about your organization.

Pascal Pierra: Optomec is a U.S. firm, headquartered in New Mexico. We have been targeted on 3D printing/additive manufacturing for about 20 years with two product traces. One is the LENS product line, which is a directed vitality deposition know-how the place we will print metallic, like titanium and stainless-steel. The principal utility for the LENS product line is including supplies to present parts—for instance to revive, remanufacture, or add options to metallic elements. Optomec presents additive and hybrid techniques the place we will mix LENS know-how with a CNC machine to allow additive/subtractive metallic processing all on one machine. We have collaboration already with CNC machine instrument suppliers within the U.S., Mexico with VIWA, Taiwan with Tongtai, and we’re engaged on different collaborations in Asia. We even have our personal hybrid techniques known as the LENS Machine Tool collection.

The different product line is the Aerosol Jet, a novel know-how for printing electronics onto 3D constructions. It permits customers to aerosol spray all kinds of digital and even bio-materials onto substrates at function resolutions starting from 10 microns to some millimeters. What is exclusive to Aerosol Jet know-how is its means to print high-resolution conformal options onto any 3D form.

Matties: So, Aerosol Jet is about 3D printing electronics; the know-how is fascinating since you’re utilizing fuel to focus this and also you atomize the particulate.

Pierra: Yes. Aerosol Jet printing is utilizing an Optomec patented know-how to create a sprig. We have two several types of atomizers accessible, pneumatic or ultrasonic, that nebulizes a supply materials, for instance a silver nano-particle ink, right into a dense mist of very superb droplets ranging in diameter from 2–5 microns. Each droplet can include 1000’s of silver nano-particles. This dense cloud of droplets with entrained nanoparticle particles is then directed to the Aerosol Jet deposition nozzle the place it’s surrounded by a sheath fuel. The massive benefit of our know-how is that sheath fuel is used to dynamically focus the cloud into a decent stream to create options starting from 10 microns to some millimeters. Also, because of the sheath fuel, the mist is accelerated to a velocity of 50 meters/second , so it stays in focus throughout its journey from the nozzle exit to the substrate for a distance as much as 5 mm. This lengthy focal size allows it to keep up the specified function decision when printing on non-planar surfaces. No different know-how available on the market has that functionality.

With different printing applied sciences, reminiscent of inkjet, the nozzle should  be very near the substrate and subsequently they don’t seem to be in a position to print on non-planar surfaces.

Matties: The marketplace for 3D surfaces is sort of broad as a result of there are all forms of functions.

Pierra: That’s appropriate. So, one of many principal markets that we’re addressing is manufacturing of antennas for smartphones in addition to the IoT market with printing varied forms of sensors. We can print antennas and sensors collectively in addition to interconnects together with multi-level interconnects, as a result of we can also print dielectric supplies on the cross-over factors, eliminating the necessity for multilayer circuit boards. This all means we will print extra electronics right into a smaller area which is right for hand-held cellular gadgets, aerospace, and sensible gadgets used for IoT functions. We even have  clients utilizing Aerosol Jet printing for functions in life science. For occasion, there’s a college in Singapore printing heaters on bandages. So, you possibly can apply the bandage containing printed electronics onto the wound and you then apply warmth to the wound. That is an instance of the power to print any circuitry onto a 3D substrate, even one that’s versatile.

Matties: For a circuit board designer, would this be a instrument to make use of for speedy prototyping for simply a typical circuit?

Pierra: Rapid prototyping can be an excellent utility for this know-how as a result of you possibly can print parts reminiscent of resistors, capacitors, sensors, antennas, and even skinny movie transistors in addition to interconnects to finish the circuitry. Since the printing course of is pushed by digital CAD knowledge, customers can create and revise prototypes in a short time. For occasion, we now have many navy clients within the U.S. utilizing our know-how for prototyping and low quantity manufacturing.

Matties: On the 3D printing facet, has this know-how been round for a number of years?

Pierra: Yes, this know-how has been round for greater than 15 years. There’s somewhat subtlety between 3D printing and Aerosol Jet. With the Aerosol Jet we truly print on 3D shapes.

Matties: Versus printing an precise half.

Pierra: Right. With microfluidic needles, we will print the complete constructions, however the primary utility is to print conformal electronics onto a 3D form. In some instances the place it’s essential to obtain a sure resistivity, you can also make the printed hint somewhat bit thicker by printing a number of layers but it surely’s not likely 3D printing as you examine within the press, reminiscent of printing any shapes or any objects of assorted supplies. What we do with Aerosol Jet is extra what we name printing “on” 3D elements and people elements are sometimes made utilizing standard manufacturing strategies reminiscent of injection molding.

Matties: It’s an additive course of onto a base that already exists. So you are not shaping a brand new knee. You’re printing a circuit on a knee.

Pierra: That’s precisely proper. Then the opposite factor that we do, as an example we will print a coating on a stent; the addition of the fabric permits the physique to higher settle for the stent and subsequently decreasing the medicine required.

GE_Gas_Turbine.jpgAnother utility that could be very profitable was developed in collaboration with General Electric. GE is now printing pressure sensors onto metallic blades used of their industrial fuel turbine engines. The sensors are printed utilizing a ceramic ink that may stand up to the excessive working temperature contained in the engine. Each sensor has a novel digital code and a exactly printed sample that can be utilized to measure growth within the blade—a situation referred to as creep. During upkeep cycles the sensors are scanned and the information is distributed to Predix, the GE Industrial Internet of Things analytics platform. Then simply the blades that require substitute are recognized and changed decreasing upkeep prices and downtime. The benefit of that is now they know which blades on the turbine have to be changed and which do not. In actuality only a few blades have to be changed through the early in-service lifetime of the engine. Reliability engineers name the adolescence failure mode “toddler mortality.” Prior to incorporating creep sensors, GE changed the entire blades primarily based on the expected toddler mortality failure time.

Matties: Regardless of situation.

Pierra:  Yes. Now they will determine and change simply these blades which are about to expertise failure. So, there’s an enormous market right here that individuals are not but conscious of, which is to assist prolong the lifetime of the essential elements by including sensors on the elements. We are additionally printing pressure sensors on shafts. And the identical, you possibly can measure the sensors and see if that shaft must be changed or not. This opens the door to a really big selection of functions for a lot of  industries. Printing the sensors provides just a few to the price of every blade, however saves 1000’s of in unneeded blade substitute and downtime.

Matties: Now, if a buyer already has supplies and stock of their warehouse, and so they say, “We want to add a sensor to this,” they need not exit to a producer. They may simply actually do it inside their very own manufacturing unit.

Pierra: That’s precisely proper.

Matties: This adjustments the way in which circuits might be constructed sooner or later.

Pierra: That’s appropriate. You can add the sensor afterwards. You can add the sensors on the shaft. The shaft is an effective instance of a 3D form. So, it would not matter. You can print something on something.

Matties: What about vehicle functions?

Pierra: For cars we now have just a few functions, particularly with printing heaters. For occasion, new automobiles have help for drivers, proper? Some luxurious automobiles, when you begin popping out of your lane, the automobile takes you again into the lane. All this know-how is assisted by cameras. You don’t need the digital camera to be obstructed by ice within the winter. So, we now have functions the place we will print heaters on the window that the digital camera is seeing by way of. Then, you can too print an ice sensor. You can sense that the heater must be turned on and switch it on robotically. This utility is trickier than it appears since you ship the identical currents by way of the window, however you see the hint size is totally different. So, in order for you the identical present to undergo every of the traces, it’s essential to regulate. You do not see it, however some traces listed here are thicker than others so that each one have the identical resistance creating uniform heating/melting. So, it isn’t as trivial because it appears.

Matties: We have been speaking earlier about airplane wings or icy circumstances. Can you clarify extra about that?

Pierra: We even have improvement with some airplane firms about printing the identical sort of heaters on versatile electronics so you possibly can regulate it from the wings after which with the identical ice sensor, you possibly can detect the ice after which change on the heater robotically to verify the airplane has no icing downside earlier than take-off.

Matties: Are you truly printing on a wing floor or are you printing a membrane that they apply?

Pierra: We can do each.

Matties: What’s the dimensions? Because the wing is very giant. How does a wing get by way of your course of?

Pierra: In this specific utility that I used to be discussing, we have been doing prototypes on drawings. Then it did not get to the precise utility, however in apply we may print on versatile circuitry and simply apply it on the wing. It wouldn’t be an issue.

Matties: But the machine itself, it isn’t a machine that you can go mount someplace and canopy the entire wing, actually?

Pierra: Well, we may. The Aerosol Jet know-how has been packaged as a stand-alone entity; we name it the Aerosol Jet Print Engine (AJPE). The AJPE may be mounted on a robotic arm to entry the wing on this instance or on every other automation platforms to deal with no matter excessive quantity manufacturing utility you’ll have.

Matties: I am questioning if there is a enterprise of portability with this the place somebody can have it in a truck and go present service to firms, or the navy can have it in jeeps out within the battlefields or different places. Is there pondering alongside these traces or any curiosity in that? Is there any sensible goal for that? Repair radios or one thing in a fight state of affairs?

3D_printed.jpgPierra: Not for the time being however we did have a venture with the U.S. Army to print varied forms of sensors and energy circuits immediately on 3D printed drones relying on the mission. This was a collaboration with a U.S. firm known as Aurora Flight Sciences.

Matties: You guys sound such as you’re very progressive. I am simply interested by a wing, if I’ve an present airplane and I need to convert all my planes to this heater know-how on this space. So it really works that method. This is basically fascinating know-how and it is already modified the way in which individuals are pondering and doing enterprise. Since it is not likely 3D printing, how would you describe this?

creep_sensor.jpgPierra: It is printed electronics in that we will print on 3D shapes. We do have the potential to make thicker traces, which is successfully 3D printing microstructures. We even have the potential to print 3D microstructures utilizing photopolymers. The principal utility is printing digital antennas and/or sensors on 3D objects. Of course you’ve gotten the identical flexibilities that you’ve got with conventional 3D printers the place it is all digital. It’s very simple to vary. It’s very fast to make speedy prototyping. One of our clients, Lite-On Mobile, is a contract manufacturing firm,  primarily based in Guangzhou. They have 16 of our printers and so they print hundreds of thousands of conformal antennas and sensors for cellphones. The massive benefit that they’ve with our know-how is that they’re in a position to ship prototypes to the purchasers in three–four days, the place with the earlier know-how it took them 2–three weeks.

Matties: What is the print velocity? Is it a really gradual or is it a strong course of?

Pierra: The print velocity is determined by the function measurement and layer thickness. There are just a few parameters. I’d say  the print velocity varies from 10 millimeters per second all the way in which to about 20 millimeters per second. For the Lite-On utility they’re printing on 4 cellphone instances concurrently on one machine. Depending on the sample, print time can take one or two minutes to print on all 4 instances. So the method has excessive throughput and is value efficient for mass manufacturing. One million of those a month may be achieved with 16 print heads.

Matties: How does that examine to different competing applied sciences?

Pierra: A competing know-how, as an example, within the cellphone world, is a technique that is known as laser direct structuring (LDS). It’s a seven-step course of, which incorporates etching and plating that’s sometimes outsourced to a third-party vendor. Also, it isn’t very inexperienced and it’s a longer course of. By comparability ours is a quite simple two-step course of. You print the antenna and also you treatment it. It’s a really fast course of; it is inexperienced; it makes use of little or no materials; it would not contain any harsh chemical compounds. As far as the price, it is truly cheaper than the present know-how like LDS know-how. Especially as you print bigger elements. LDS isn’t very value efficient for big elements. For us, it makes no distinction.

Matties: Is the uncooked materials one thing that’s bought by way of you, or is that this a product with a number of suppliers?

Pierra: Actually, Optomec believes in an open strategy for each of our product traces, the place we don’t promote supplies to our clients. Our clients purchase powders and inks immediately from materials suppliers. For Aerosol Jet  there are a really giant variety of suppliers which are promoting nano-particle inks. Optomec evaluates these inks to verify they can be utilized with the know-how. The ink viscosity vary at room temperature may be within the vary of  1 to 1000 cp. And for nano-particle inks, it’s most popular that the particles are lower than 200 nanometers in diameter. So in essence, if the fabric may be suspended in an answer and atomized, it may be printed with Aerosol Jet know-how.

Matties: I see you’ve gotten in your display screen right here about 30 or so suppliers. So provide isn’t a problem. What about funding? What would somebody have a look at for mainly getting up and operating?

Pierra: Just the final phrase on the supplies; Aerosol Jet helps all kinds of supplies used within the electronics trade. For instance, the system helps printing of non-metallic conductors reminiscent of PDOT:PSS and carbon nanotubes, resistive inks, dielectrics, adhesives, conductive adhesives, semiconductors, and even biologic supplies. Most just lately we launched assist for copper and copper/nickel alloy (Constantan) inks.

Matties: There’s plenty of flexibility on this.

Pierra: There are infinite prospects.

Matties: One unit will deal with a number of supplies. They haven’t got to purchase impartial machines. You can use silver someday and carbon the subsequent?

Pierra: That’s precisely proper. It’s not an issue. Actually, while you print multi-layer circuitry, you possibly can first print the silver, you then print the dielectric, you then print silver once more, and you then print conductive epoxy to connect the parts.

Matties: There’s an enormous marketplace for that. We’re watching a pair different firms which are actually targeted on this multi-layer circuit printing from vapor to closing board.

Pierra:  So to reply your query on funding, Optomec presents quite a lot of system configurations to be used in R&D to excessive quantity manufacturing. Entry costs begin at round $250,000.

Matties: When you’re taking that funding, and examine it to the benefit GE has, the ROI have to be fast.

Pierra: Correct. ROI will rely upon the functions, after all. You are proper to spotlight that the ROI isn’t solely on the manufacturing value saving itself but additionally on the general financial savings related to the complete utility.

Matties: I count on, relying on particular person circumstances, it could be a reasonably fast ROI.

Pierra: Yes, many new potential clients have an interest. The value isn’t actually a problem.

Matties: How many models do have already in play?

Pierra: Today, Optomec has bought greater than 300 techniques in 20 international locations. About 70% are Aerosol Jet and the rest are LENS.

Matties: So it is confirmed know-how. Well examined. It’s been out there for a few years. People should purchase this with confidence.

Pierra: Absolutely. The know-how has been available on the market or greater than 15 years.

Matties: What type of upkeep considerations would they’ve along with your know-how?

Pierra: For the aerosol jet, the upkeep could be very minimal. Of course, as a result of it is an ink-based know-how, you need to clear it periodically. For our manufacturing techniques the cleansing cycle is as soon as each 4 hours. However, downtime is minimized as a result of the soiled print head may be shortly eliminated (with out instruments) and a clear head may be swapped in. The system is then again up and operating shortly, whereas the soiled head is positioned in a cleansing bathtub and able to go once more in only a few hours.

Matties: Great. Pascal, I definitely admire you taking time to speak with us at the moment. Thank you.

Pierra: Thank you.

A Twist on Printed Electronics: Printing on 3D Shapes by: Steve Melvin published:


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