Printed circuit boards, or PCBs, have traditionally been made from several layers of thin, plastic boards with very fine metal imprinting. The fine metal imprinting usually conducts electrical impulses or transmits data signals, depending on the type of metal and how it is threaded through the plastic. Now, with the new technology of 3D printing, that is changing. Instead of imprinting metal and adhering circuits and wires to the boards over the course of several hours, most of the boards and even some of the circuitry can be imprinted simultaneously with minimal interruptions. This is changing the way that PCB manufacturers produce boards for customer needs. The following will provide you with more information on how things are changing or about to change with this technology.
How 3D Printing Will Make Production More Efficient
When 3D printers are operating, they very rapidly create any object out of hard plastic. (Since most PCBs are already made of plastic, it seems only natural that 3D printing would make an easy transition into this industry.) PCB manufacturers can load the printers with any kind of plastic or metal filament and the digitized instructions to create a board. Anytime a board needs a group set of metal pins or other circuits that cannot be printed and incorporated into the board in the printer, the printer stops and allows workers to attach these pieces before the boards are placed back into the printers and the printing job resumes. Because the boards are no longer being assembled by hand, the process is much more efficient.
If a manufacturer was already a fully automated system, there are times when the system malfunctions or makes several errors on boards all at once. Since the printer is much more precise and takes momentary breaks for other pieces to be added to the boards, human eyes and hands can examine the boards to see if there are any flaws that might be problematic. It makes the whole process faster, neater, less flawed, and more efficient.
What It Means for Companies Ordering PCBs
If your company orders a specific PCB but you want to tweak it just enough to do something a little different, the programming in the 3D printer is altered to reflect changes to the standard board. Then you can order as many copies of your customized board as you want. Every time you want to make a change or you want to print several PCBs quickly, the company that uses the 3D process will be able to fill your order better and faster than its competitors.