Developing PCBs for Industrial Additive Manufacturing

Back in the day, to support myself through school, I used to work in a couple of factories as these were the best paying jobs for relatively inexperienced workers like myself back then. Moreover, manufacturing plants virtually covered the area where I grew up, so finding steady employment was not difficult. Although I never fell in love with working in an assembly line, I did have the chance to learn about industrial production and what it takes for it to run smoothly. I also learned what could gum up the works, which would happen when the assemblers on the line were out of sync.

Industrial 3D printing assembly line

Advanced industrial additive manufacturing concept

Today, at least in many production facilities, automation is used to improve the synchronization of assembling tasks. The improvements in industrial manufacturing efficiency (quality and costs) are undeniable. One of the advanced manufacturing techniques that promises to be a significant contributor to the proliferation of Industry 4.0 is industrial additive manufacturing. This term may cause you to think of desktop 3D printing, which wouldn’t be completely accurate. Let’s first clarify where these two processes intersect and diverge, then discuss PCB development issues that are of particular concern when building boards for the evolving industrial additive manufacturing landscape.

Is 3D Printing Industrial Additive Manufacturing?

Before explicitly answering this question, let’s define a few terms:

Additive Manufacturing

Additive manufacturing is the process of creating a product by addition. In other words, the process begins with a basic structure and additional material is added until the final product is achieved. There are a number of additive manufacturing processes, including:

  • Material extrusion: This process uses a heated nozzle that is moved horizontally across a bed while the material is extruded. The bed is lowered to allow additional layers to be created.
  • Power bed fusion (PBF): Here, material is melted using lasers or thermal beams in 3D. This method is used in several manufacturing processes, including electron beam melting (EBM), selective heat sintering (SHS), selective laser sintering (SLS), direct metal laser melting (DMLM), and direct metal laser sintering (DMLS).
  • Directed energy deposition (DED): This method is similar to material extrusion, although a greater variety of materials can be used here. These include ceramics, metals, and polymers.
  • VAT polymerization: UV light directed by mirrors are used in a process known as photopolymerization to create objects for this method.
  • Binder jetting: This jetting process uses a print head to distribute a powder material layer, followed by a binding layer of liquid successively to build the object.
  • Material jetting: This process is similar to binder jetting in that a print head such as used or inkjet printing is used to distribute the material. Natural cooling or UV lighting may be used.

Industrial Additive Manufacturing

Additive manufacturing, which can be traced back to the 1980s, was devised for industrial environments. The intent was to provide a fast prototyping technology for complex and special components as an alternative to subtracting manufacturing methods, where components are made by removing material from a larger sheet or structure, which generally involves excessive material waste, machine setup, and other activities that drive up cost.

3D Printing

3D printing is not a singular specific process of manufacturing. Instead, it may be defined as the utilization of a digital image or model, which may be obtained or generated by software, scanning, or other methods as the source for printing an object in 3D space. The methods used to create the object are referred to as additive manufacturing processes.

Continued research and development in additive manufacturing resulted in smaller machines and lower costs, which recently culminated in desktop printers that can apply additive manufacturing technologies to create single components or objects. These 3D printers have made the technology available to a much wider audience. Although the use of 3D printing in industrial environments has continued on a limited scale (primarily for aerospace, automotive, and medical device applications), since its inception, there is a renewed interest in its usage across the industrial production landscape.

How to Design and Manufacture PCBs for Industrial Additive Manufacturing

The renewed interest in additive manufacturing or 3D printing for industrial production is fueled by a number of advantages to traditional manufacturing techniques and processes that increase speed, reduce costs, and increase capability. Among these is the ability to produce more complex structures, less material waste, faster setup due to digital-to-digital processing, and lower weight products. 3D printers are comprised of mechanical devices that require electronics and PCBs. Additionally, they have functionality common to other printers, which requires control. These electronics and the types of PCBs used to provide the needed functionality are illustrated below.

3D printing common boards

Typical 3D printer electronics and board types

When developing boards for 3D printers you should apply PCB design principles to ensure the optimization of your manufactured boards. Doing so will help you avoid potential problem areas for the board types common to 3D printers, such as those listed below.

  • Power integrity

3D printers typically have internal power distribution networks (PDNs), as there are a number of varying power levels required to drive motor controllers, power integrated circuits (ICs), drive LEDs, supply user interfaces, and other devices. Therefore, your design has to provide adequate power and grounding, while minimizing interference with other circuits.

  • Signal integrity

Another significant issue is the quality and integrity of signal propagation. There are a number of signal integrity issues that can arise on your board if proper clearances, trace lengths and widths, and impedances not used. As the printer requires precision for controlling mechanical devices with small movements and tolerances, it is critical to optimize the quality of your signals.

Due in large part to the excitement generated from the development of small desktop 3D printers, industrial additive manufacturing is finally being looked at as a major part of large-scale production. The advantages of widespread implementation of this technology, especially in support of smart factories and Industry 4.0 environments are speed, ease of integration in digitized processing, and lower overall production costs.

Tempo‘s Industry 4.0 Custom PCB Manufacturing Services
  • ISO-9001, IPC-600 and IPC-610 commitment to quality certifications.
  • Agile manufacturing process to support risk management.
  • Accurate quote in less than a day.
  • DFM support from Day 1 of design.
  • Entire turnkey PCB manufacturing in as fast as 3 days.
  • High precision, complex PCB fabrication and assembly capabilities.
  • Sources components from the most reputable suppliers in the industry to reduce procurement time and help with component security.
  • Specialization in fast prototyping and low-volume production.
  • Standard quality testing; including X-ray and inline AOI.
  • Advanced QC testing; including flying probe, time domain reflectometry and ROSE.

The preciseness required of these machines necessitates that your PCB development produces high-quality boards with good power and signal integrity. At Tempo Automation, we excel in building boards to the highest quality and faster than anyone in the industry. This includes assisting you from Day 1 to ensure your design intent is aligned with our equipment capabilities for the best PCB development results and experience.

And to help you get started on the best path, we furnish information for your DFM checks and enable you to easily view and download DRC files. If you’re an Altium user, you can simply add these files to your PCB design software.

If you are ready to have your design manufactured, try our quote tool to upload your CAD and BOM files. If you want more information on industrial additive manufacturing or developing the PCBs that actually drive the 3D printers and other devices for this process, contact us.

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