A printed circuit board (PCB) mechanically supports and electrically connects electronic components using conductive tracks, pads and other features etched from copper sheets laminated onto a non-conductive substrate. Components (e.g. capacitors, resistors or active devices) are generally soldered on the PCB. Advanced PCBs may contain components embedded in the substrate.
PCBs can be single sided (one copper layer), double sided (two copper layers) or multi-layer (outer and inner layers). Conductors on different layers are connected with vias. Multi-layer PCBs allow for much higher component density.
FR-4 glass epoxy is the primary insulating substrate. A basic building block of the PCB is an FR-4 panel with a thin layer of copper foil laminated to one or both sides. In multi-layer boards multiple layers of material are laminated together.
Printed circuit boards are used in all but the simplest electronic products. Alternatives to PCBs include wire wrap and point-to-point construction. PCBs require the additional design effort to lay out the circuit, but manufacturing and assembly can be automated. Manufacturing circuits with PCBs is cheaper and faster than with other wiring methods as components are mounted and wired with one single part.
A minimal PCB with a single component used for easier modeling is called a breakout board. The making of DIY circuit boards is a complex task. First, you’ll have to plan the PCB, make a 2D print of the layout, cut a copper plate, transfer the PCB layout to the copper plate, iron the circuit, go through the process of etching, cleaning, disposing… and after some hours of manual labor, you should be ready.
There must be a way to do this more efficiently, right? Wouldn’t a 3D printer be perfect for that job? Fortunately, the first PCB 3D printers will become available soon. Currently, these machines are able to 3d print electronics.
1. 3D Printed Electronics in One Go: Nano Dimension Dragonfly
The “NexD1” is a multimaterial 3D printer from a German company called Next Dynamics. Their Kickstarter campaign wants to deliver more than a 3D printed circuit board. Thanks to the “DigiJet” technology, the NexD1 is able of print a wide range of materials, including resins with nano-particles or pigments. Therefore you can 3D print not only circuit boards, but also full-color prints and flexible materials.
The NexD1 prints fully functional PCBs and places them in any 3D configuration. According to the team, this is made possible by galvanizing a nano-particle infused resin – a new and interesting way of electronics manufacturing that opens up a new realm of potential in 3D prototyping.