PCB prototyping using additive manufacturing system
The German firm, Beta LAYOUT GmbH, manufactures prototypes for printed circuit boards (PCBs) and 3D mechatronic integrated devices (MIDs). To speed prototype production and reduce costs, it has installed an additive manufacturing system from Munich-based EOS. EOS has a subsidiary in Warwick, UK.
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, "Working with the EOS additive manufacturing system, we can deliver quickly to our customers high-quality prototypes that are close to series-produced boards.
“What's particularly practical in all this is that we are even able to deal with orders for 3D models via websites and online shops. Additive manufacturing has enabled us to expand our business model successfully."
EOS technology provides a high 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.
Mr Martin continued, “Besides these advantages, additive manufacturing offers an additional bonus. Ultimately, what we are experiencing here is a democratisation of advanced technology.
“Without innovations such as this, we would not be able to offer 3D-MID as a service at all. This would mean that many smaller companies and development houses would have no chance of realising such prototypes.
“Consequently, the much talked-about innovation and creative power of small and medium sized companies would lose momentum and the research and development sector would be a lot less dynamic.
"Thanks to its many advantages, additive manufacturing technology offers high added value for a broad range of market participants.
“Research and development profits through our services, which in turn has a positive impact on our business model. It enables us to offer the benefits of advanced technology to a large number of users."