Additive manufacture of electronic circuit boards

31 May 2016

Beta LAYOUT installed an additive manufacturing system from EOS to speed prototype production and reduce costs.

As in chip manufacture, circuit board producers are working on stacking multiple layers to continue improving performance. In modern electronic devices, there is often a small amount of space available to install the circuitry, as much of the volume is required for other items like screens, output connectors and ever larger batteries. Weight is another key factor and 3D circuit boards have an important role to play here as well.

The ever-shorter life cycle of many devices poses additional challenges, as injection moulding costs too much for prototype manufacture. For this reason, Beta LAYOUT wanted a less expensive alternative and installed an EOS FORMIGA P 110 additive manufacturing system to produce circuit carriers for evaluation.

The innovative process starts with building the boards layer-by-layer from glass-filled polyamide (PA 3200 GF). They are then coated with a special finish containing an additive. Subsequent LDS (laser direct structuring) activates the finish by triggering a physical-chemical reaction that creates metallic spores while simultaneously roughening the surface. 

After LDS, the models are placed in a copper bath without an electric current. There, copper particles are deposited on the previously activated areas to create conductive tracks, which can undergo further copper plating through galvanisation, if required. Beta LAYOUT adds individual components to the board prior to functional testing.

Manuel Martin, Product Manager 3D-MID at Beta LAYOUT explained that what's particularly practical in all this is that company is able to deal with orders for 3D models via websites and online shops. 

EOS technology provides a degree of flexibility. The FORMIGA machine is able to process not only PA 3200 GF but other materials as well such as Alumide, an aluminium-filled polyamide. High-performance polymers such as PEEK and various metals are also available. The crucial point is that all the materials are capable of withstanding high temperatures, which is a limitation of the injection moulding process during series production. 

Due to the flexibility of the EOS equipment, Beta LAYOUT is able to fulfil the various individual requirements of its customers, for example by responding to the particular characteristics of the intended purpose of the circuit carrier. In this way, the company can customise optimal solutions, be this in terms of lower costs, a higher degree of temperature resistance or any other specific requirements. 

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