3rd dimension will transform electronics

Shifting PCB design from 2D to 3D will be a disruptive paradigm shift for the electronics industry, making new applications possible and offering opportunities for a next generation of product developers and manufacturers.

Semiconductor industry group ITRS predicted in a 2015 report that something they called '3D Power Scaling' could extend Moore's Law for another decade and even accelerate the rate of innovation.

'The semiconductor industry is running out of horizontal space,' the report said. Flash drive companies like Micron, Toshiba and Samsung have already started vertically stacking layers to produce terabit devices.

This approach of 'packing density', according to ITRS, is 'not too dissimilar from the approach taken in Manhattan, Tokyo, Hong Kong or similarly highly crowded places to deal with space limitations'.

Electronics will follow the semiconductor industry up. 3D printing is adding the third dimension to PCB fabrication. Electronics will be integrated in parts, in the material, designed and manufactured in one process.

A few companies are paving the way. Voxel8 released a proof of concept 3D multimaterial printer two years ago. Nano Dimension recently filed a patent application for a particular way to print 3D objects with conductive traces.

But much more work remains to be done to evolve the technology beyond crude plastic with silver ink prototypes to applications for consumer electronics, aerospace, automotive, healthcare and IoT.

Material Machines intends to play a central role in bringing all the elements together - materials science, software and hardware - and provide the tools to the innovators at research labs, tech transfer hubs, makerspaces.