3D Printing, Masking, and Aluminum Soldering

3D Printed Circuit Board3D printing seems to grow ever more popular year by year. Research and development into this field is growing at a rapid pace and expanding into new frontiers. While it is most commonly used for plastics and prototyping, some companies have been expanding the applications to include solder masking. One manufacturer seems to have made a significant advance with the use of imprint lithography to affix transistors to substrates. One offshoot of that may be the necessity for joining dissimilar materials using techniques such as aluminum soldering.

While this is not the case for the actual electronics that can be printed directly onto various surfaces, such as plastic, paper, and metal. However, if the circuit printed is just one small part of a much larger system, the need to join components can again come into play. Depending on the substrate, it could very easily melt the electronics and limit the exterior design of a product. To prevent this, a low temperature solder could be necessary. The market for these types of products is there, as the company believes that printed electronics will grow 58 percent year over year until the end of the decade.

However, much more common than this type of printing, are 3D printers that affix a solder mask to an existing printed circuit board (PCB). The solder mask prevents joining materials from leaching into other parts of the system. This is critical to avoid shorts and other flaws that can crop up during the manufacturing process. For now, the Camtek PCB masking system is priced at a point where it is not necessarily the best fit for startups.

However, for companies that create drones or other robotics, as well as sensor arrays for oil rigs and the maritime sector, this will likely speed up the rollout time and perhaps even make it easier to perform small-scale tests without having to worry about assembly line personnel having to learn a new board layout. With that being the case, and a number of industries looking towards specialized alloys for benefits in strength, resistance to impact, temperature, and corrosion, both of these products may benefit from materials used in aluminum soldering that can join components at lower temperatures. Doing so will reduce the risk of cracking and warping that can sometimes occur due to differences in the rates of thermal expansion.

For a closer look at the two products and their manufacturers, see these articles about Pragmatic Printing and Camtek.

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