Its hard to imagine the likes of Jonathan Ross discussing the elements of multilayer PCB design but, whilst not targeting PCB manufacture implicitly, he was recently seen extolling the virtues of 3D printing on his occasionally-amusing ITV show. If we might somehow step beyond the strange beard, floppy hair and engorged ego, it is certainly staggering that this new technology has allowed innovative printers not only to “print” in terms of lines upon a page, but to incorporate a third dimension in order to stack up the material and thereby construct physical objects, layer-by-layer.
The idea itself is actually approaching 30 years old but as with all visionary innovations, it took that time for the mechanical technology to catch up with the rather more organic machinations of the human brain, as well as bringing the costs down to an appropriate level. Although Jonathan was wowed by a basic 3D print out, ground-breaking applications are, perhaps not surprisingly, following quickly in its wake, of both an industrial and hobbyist nature, with the implications for aiding PCB design obvious. Starting from around £1000, 3D printers are certainly within reach for DIY home use, whilst at the upper end of the market, print resolution can reach the micron range.
Well, some designers are already latching on to the fact that it has been, up until now, pretty much impossible to create one-off prototypes of complex designs, such as multilayer PCBs, leaving the only option of computer simulation, or else very expensive prototypes. Now, whether industrial engineer or DIY hobbyist, you can create your design on a computer, then sit back as your printer renders a 3D visualisation of your design, removing the need for mass—production or long prototype procedures. In addition, 3D printers are able to print with plastic, polymer or even metal materials, create sturdy versions of your visions for multilayer PCB designs.
2D printing? Pah, that’s sooooo last century!