Additive manufacturing can replace etching processes says InnovationLab

A sustainable method to manufacture PCBs based on additive manufacturing is not only cost-effective but will help meet higher environmental standards for electronics production, said InnovationLab.

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

The additive process does not use toxic etchants, and runs at comparatively low temperatures of around 150 degrees C, reducing energy consumption. The substrates used in additive PCB manufacturing are up to 15 times thinner, compared to conventional techniques, which reduces material consumption and means the production process has less waste.

A physical prototype has been produced. It includes all the important blocks of a smart label, and uses a copper ink for high conductivity. Component mounting can be done in a conventional reflow soldering process, which enables manufacturers to switch to the new technology without having to invest in new equipment, pointed out InnovationLab.

Multi-layer layer printing, metal and dielectric, was used to produce a low power temperature sensor and logger, an NFC (near field communication) interface via a printed antenna, and a compact battery that is charged from a printed solar cell device. The process can produce both standard and flexible PCBs with up to four layers and can be used in product and process development for hybrid electronics, confirmed InnovationLab.

Dr. Janusz Schinke, head of printed electronics at InnovationLab, said, “By the end of this year, we expect to have scaled this process to high volumes, meeting customer demands of a million solderable tracks or more.”

SmartEEs2 is a European project, which is 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 wearable electronics technologies, and thus to help European industry’s competitiveness. 

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