Electronics manufacturing sees growth with 3D printers

With 3D printers doing more things than ever, manufacturing electronics businesses are seeing great potential from the technology.

Electronics manufacturing sees growth with 3D printers

Advancements in 3-D printing change how manufacturing plants will produce materials. With the technology continuing to expand and new uses of the printers emerging on a regular basis, manufacturers have found creative ways to put the machines to use. By investing heavily in the printers, companies in all fields are seeing immediate results and improved production.

As the potential financial gain grows, the limits to which companies will go with these 3-D printers is also expanding. In November, Toshiba announced it had developed a metal printer that could deliver materials such as iron, Inconel and stainless steel 10 times faster than previous models. By creating software that allows users to modify what they are making, the printer can process complex shapes and designs to create exactly what designers have in mind. According to DigiTimes, the company is still tinkering with the prototype but hopes to have the product on the market in 2017.

The idea of printing steel was unheard of just a handful of years ago, but the rapid progress made in the field has changed all that. With more developments on the way for manufacturers, embracing 3-D printers is a necessity. The technology isn't just for material sintering. The advancements are also changing the way electronics are made.

Use for 3-D printers expanding
The newest evolution in 3-D printing are machines that produce high-level wearable electronics, such as watches, glasses and clothing. As more buyers look to acquire items like virtual reality-supported headsets and data-tracking wristbands, businesses are realizing how important wearable electronics are to the industry. The devices are prominent in fields such as health care and athletics, and have the backing of brands like Nike and Apple.

According to IDTechEx, the wearable electronics field already generates $20 billion annually. However, the industry is set to grow at a tremendous rate, and should be worth more than $70 billion in the next decade.

In response, New York-based Graphene 3D Labs has begun creating 3-D printers that specialize in the production of wearable electronics. The company can print materials that are lightweight and flexible, which allows them to be fitted specifically in coordination with electronic technology.

3D printers3-D printers are changing the way electronics manufacturing is done.

"Wearable electronics is an obvious application as the electronics, sensors and conductive properties will all need to be flexible with the wearable material," Daniel Stolyarov, the co-CEO of Graphene 3-D Labs, said to the New York Business Journal.

Wearable electronics are just one industry that has grown thanks to 3-D printers. The technology has also taken its place in other fields.

Engineers at Purdue University developed a machine that prints ready-to-use electronics, such as computer mouses. However the system, called RevoMaker, is different than most printers because it is built with a multi-directional design, meaning different parts of electronics can be constructed on their own and then put together. For electronics that need batteries or motors installed, the Purdue 3-D printer allows them to be embedded before the printing process begins.

"With a traditional 3-D printer you print on a planar print bed and the platform is fixed," Raymond Cipra, a Purdue professor of mechanical engineering, said in a statement. "Our strategy is to replace the print bed with a laser-cut cuboid which can be rotated about an axis to provide orthogonal printing surfaces on each side of the volume."

Cloud software to monitor it all
For manufacturing businesses hesitant to invest in 3-D printer technology or feel they are lagging behind, an optimal solution is NGIMES, a cloud-software from Atachi. The program gives companies greater flexibility and rapid responses to measure if investing in new technology is worth it.

For electronics manufacturers who have invested in 3-D printers, NGIMES can also be a great asset. From making high-tech watches to battery-controlled speakers, the printers can create products in ways technology has never been able to match before. Cloud technology helps monitor production so a company receives the maximum return on investment possible. With access to real-time information about production, manufacturing plant managers can see how well their printers are doing and what changes need to be made moving forward.

It doesn't appear that 3-D printers are going away any time soon, as researchers keep advancing the technology forward with new innovations. Given how important the printers will be in all aspects of manufacturing, especially electronics, having a program such as NGIMES working alongside will help turn a factory floor into a more efficient and profitable workspace.

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