3D printing is the future – and we are part of it

“You need a particular type of electronic component? No problem, I’ll print it for you!”

Does that sound like a thing of the future to you? It’s not! What seemed unfeasible just a few years ago, is now just about ready for volume production today. 3D printing technology has rapidly progressed in recent years and there are already initial concepts for printing electronic components.

In 2015, engineers from Harvard University presented Voxel8, a 3D printer capable of printing electrical circuits using two print heads and special, extremely conductive ink with silver components. Two years later, scientists from the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) developed structures at the MIT that when printed, fold autonomously and always revert back to their original shape – even if weights are loaded in opposing directions of the fold. This technology is a breakthrough for printed electronics as no trigger is required for the folding – any deformation triggered by humidity or temperature variations would damage the printed electronics.

Metal printing makes inroads into electronics industry

The ability to print metals such as copper, aluminum or tool steel is revolutionizing metal processing and is completely reforming industrial manufacturing. R&D for conductive material printing is also creating completely new opportunities for the electronics industry. But what benefits do printed electronics actually offer? 3D-printed electronics are not only light and flexible, they also offer short processing times and high conductivity. And 3D printing really comes into its own for small lot sizes. 3D printing can fulfill orders that otherwise would not be commercially viable: perfect, if you require high-quality and advanced, but at the same time highly customized components. This is also part of Würth Elektronik’s strategy for the future use of 3D printing, which was presented at the end of 2018 at the 3DKonzeptLab.

A breath of creative fresh air in Berlin-Adlershof

Where innovation thrives, young start-up companies are often close-by. It is no wonder then that a productive start-up scene has emerged around the innovation of “3D printing”. And as a company that is always open to new trends, innovation and forward-thinking, Würth Elektronik naturally has its foot already in the door. With its Innovation Hub and Competence Center in Berlin-Adlershof, Würth Elektronik has positioned itself in exactly the right place: here, the academic environment is converging with start-up creativity in a popular city, the ideal conditions for developing innovative ideas and technologies. The people working here are not looking for a 9 to 5 job, instead they want to excel in a challenging and fast developing environment.

This amount of creativity, passion and innovative spirit deserves support. This is why Würth Elektronik actively collaborates with many start-up companies. We support them with workspaces, hardware and lab appointments, as well as with help with the engineering process or with TÜV accreditations.

Our goal is to encourage & support young companies, to set them up as business partners and thus to ensure that Würth Elektronik is firmly embedded in innovations such as 3D printing right from the outset. After all, the Würth Group offers more than just numerous opportunities to implement this technology – even if volume production may still require a little more patience.

First functional prototypes of products, which we developed further in-house and have produced using specific 3D printing processes, already exist. In the USA, Würth Elektronik is also using 3D printing to create new package design prototypes. Here, 3D printing saves a lot of time and resources, compared to conventional production of matching tools. In many cases, we are talking several weeks and thousands of US Dollars.

At electronica in Munich, Würth Elektronik presented an optoelectronics application example of horticulture LEDs whose housing was printed using 3D. This shows, how 3D printing technology can be applied in different departments and areas and how it can also create synergies.

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