Printed electronics and 3D printing form a powerful combination

As electronics are getting both smaller and more powerful, electronics manufacturers are searching for new ways to increase performance. One way to still push the performance forward is by improving the architecture of the electronic components by stacking multiple structural layers on top of each other. Beta Layout GmbH is using 3D printing technology to manufacture and test prototypes of innovative circuit carriers and printed circuit boards.

As electronics are getting both smaller and more powerful, electronics manufacturers are searching for new ways to increase performance. This is no easy task since the structures on processors are already almost maxed out. One way to still push the performance forward is by improving the architecture of the electronic components by stacking multiple structural layers on top of each other. The German company Beta Layout GmbH is using 3D printing technology to manufacture and test prototypes of innovative circuit carriers and printed circuit boards.

Because of the limited space that is available in small modern electronic devices, three-dimensional circuit carriers have become the solution of choice. The price pressure that comes with electronic devices that have a short life span also poses a challenge: injection molding is too expensive for producing prototypes. To address these challenges, Beta Layout looked for a 3D printing solution to make less expensive prototypes for high performance circuitry.

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Beta Layout manufactures 3D mechatronic integrated devices (3D-MID) for several companies. In a first step, Beta Layout uses 3D printed plastic parts made with EOS’ 3D printer Formiga P 110. The printer can print directly from CAD data and is able to process various materials, such as PA 3200 GF, which is filled with glass beads. For Beta Layout, the flexibility regarding the materials is important since the prototypes need to be made with materials that can withstand high temperatures.

The 3D printed models are then coated with a special finish that contains an additive. Using a method called laser-direct structuring (LDS), layouts are created. The layouts are subsequently turned into conductor tracks by activating the finish. The conductor tracks can undergo further copper plating through galvanization or can be furnished with a surface finish. After adding individual components, the prototypes can be tested.

Using 3D technology allowed Beta Layout to produce the models faster and at lower cost, which, in turn, resulted in an expansion of their business model. Beta Layout can now fulfill orders for 3D models that come in via websites and online shops. The company also sees a greater benefit in providing the prototypes fast and at a relatively low price point. Doing so allows smaller and mid-sized companies to continue to innovate, which will lead to a dynamic and possibly highly innovative environment.