3D Printing: What Does It Mean For The Semiconductor Industry?

Role of 3D printing expands into PCB manufacturing and keeping equipment running longer.


Semico Research was pleased to host the 3D printing TechXPOT at SEMICON West 2016, in conjunction with SEMI. We also hosted the inaugural 3D printing session at SEMICON West 2014. What is striking is how much the 3D printing industry has changed in those two years. In 2014, 3D printing was at the height of media attention; the major questions were when each home would have its own 3D printer. In 2016, the conversation is much more focused on certain industries where 3D printing shines—namely, healthcare, automotive, and aerospace. In 2014, we were just beginning to put plastics and metals in the same 3D printed object. In 2016, the focus is now on refining those materials for conductivity and reducing design time and costs for PCBs.

Simon Fried from Nano Dimension talked about his company’s use of nanoparticle conductive and dielectric inks for PCB prototyping. He believes 3D printing will revolutionize PCB manufacturing, reducing prototyping build time from weeks to hours. Karl Willis of Voxel8 went even further and talked about how an expanding range of materials, the ability to print multiple materials together, making functional parts at high throughput could help 3D printing be accepted as an electronics manufacturing tool. Electronics can be integrated in a few different ways with 3D printing. Some 3D printers can pause prints midway through so electronics can be added. Others add conductive traces during the print job using a variety of techniques. Conductive traces can currently be created by using conductive polymer filament, or by printing the “surrounds” for the traces and filling them in with a metal-infused paste. In addition to PCBs, other developments in 3D printing electronics include batteries, sensors, antennas and packaging.

3d printed quadcopter Semico

3D-printed quadcopter by Voxel8. (Source: voxel8.co)

There are a number of advantages with 3D printing as it stands today. It brings production closer to the end user, which reduces supply chain restrictions and shipping time and costs. It is friendly to the environment; other manufacturing methods like machining result in a lot of waste, in some cases up to 90% of the original block of material is wasted. Designers are able to customize designs as much as needed, with the ability to quickly make changes and re-print if something needs tweaking. Also, 3D printed products can include intricate details and complex features at no added cost. The 3D printed product is often lighter and stronger than the traditionally-manufactured version, due to the greater variety of materials offered and removing limitations imposed by machining devices or mold shapes. Assembly time can be reduced drastically if multiple parts are redesigned into single pieces.

A major theme of this year’s SEMICON West was the resurgence of 200mm manufacturing to support the IoT market. Tools used in 200mm manufacturing are decades-old and need new parts to keep them running. While some manufacturers are building new 200mm tools, one solution is to use 3D printing to help keep old tools running longer. 3D printing is ideal for high-value, low-volume production and has proven capable of producing parts certified to operate commercial jet engines. If 3D printing can work for the aerospace industry, it should be beneficial to the semiconductor equipment industry. If you are a used equipment owner, buyer, or refurbisher, take a look at 3D printing – it might just save you time and money!

For more detail about the 3D printing market, check out Semico’s recent report: 3D Printing: The Next Industrial Revolution.