InnovationLab presents a new method of PCB production based on additive manufacturing

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Innovation Lab announced that it has achieved a breakthrough in the additive manufacturing (AM) of printed circuit boards (PCBs), helping to meet higher environmental standards for electronics production while reducing costs.

As part of the SmartEEs2 research project, funded by Horizon 2020, InnovationLab and its partner ISRA have developed a process for manufacturing solderable copper-based circuits. Circuits are screen printed and compatible with conventional reflow processes.

Printed electronics production is an additive process that does not use toxic etchants and operates at relatively low temperatures of around 150°C, which reduces energy consumption. In addition, the substrates used in PCB additive manufacturing are up to 15 times thinner compared to conventional techniques, which reduces material consumption and means that the production process generates less waste.

InnovationLab has so far produced a physical prototype, which includes all the important blocks of a smart label. It uses copper ink to ensure high conductivity. Component assembly can be done using a conventional reflow soldering process, allowing manufacturers to upgrade to new technology without investing in new equipment.

Multi-layer, metal and dielectric printing was used to produce the target functionality: a low-power temperature sensor and logger, an NFC communication interface via a printed antenna, and a compact battery that is charged from a printed solar cell, making the device completely self-sufficient. The new process can produce standard and flexible PCBs with up to four layers and can be used in product and process development for hybrid electronics.

“This is a state-of-the-art production process, which will reduce costs and logistical dependencies on suppliers, while providing three key benefits for the environment: consuming fewer materials, use less energy and produce less waste,” said Dr. Janusz Schinke, Printed Electronics Manager at InnovationLab. “By the end of this year, we expect to have scaled this process to high volumes, meeting customer demands for a million or more solderable traces.”

SmartEEs2 is a European project funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program. Its objective is to provide acceleration support to innovative companies for the integration of flexible and portable electronic technologies, and thus to help the competitiveness of European industry.

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