Nano Dimension's DragonFly 2020 3D Printer
Nano Dimension's DragonFly 2020 3D Printer
This probably won’t be the first time you’ve seen the term ‘Factory in a Box’. We’ve seen it in the maker community where desktop machines are described as your very own home manufacturing device all the way through to institutions like the Manufacturing Technology Centre in the Coventry, which recently launched an initiative under the moniker to turn small and medium-sized UK manufacturing businesses into global digital factories.
Founded in 2012, Israeli tech company, Nano Dimension has taken a different view on the term with the launch of its DragonFly 2020 3D Printer, designed to be the ultimate rapid prototyping tool for professional electronics. Envisaged as the first system to solve a real problem in the manufacture of electronics, the DragonFly brings a traditionally outsourced part of the manufacturing process in-house via “one box”.
Like 3D printing, printed electronics have been around for some time but it’s only just beginning to mature. Nano Dimension is by no means the first name to tackle 3D printed electronics but unlike desktop Voxel8 that’s just started shipping its Developer’s Kit 3D Printer, it identifies itself as the first company that’s solely focused on 3D printing electronics in the professional space.
“Plastic printing is good for some things, 3D metal printing is good for others, but our world is one where electronics are everywhere,” Simon Fried, Chief Business Officer and Co-founder of Nano Dimension, commented. “To be able to merge printed electronics and 3D printing will open doors to new ways of making things and ultimately making different things.”
Creating PCBs is a notoriously long process. Whilst the rest of the manufacturing process has welcomed the digital advantages of time compression technologies like additive manufacturing, the production of PCBs remains a slow practice. Describing the typical workflow that goes into making an electronic product, Simon says electronics teams are “hamstrung by the fact that once they make a design, they have to turn to a third party to make that prototype”, which ultimately slows down the entire production cycle.
The DragonFly uses an inkjet deposition and curing system to print multi-layer circuit boards in a matter of hours. Capable of printing in two materials, the machine exclusively uses Nano Dimension’s in-house developed AgCite nanoparticle conductive silver inks. Nano Dimension’s ink scientists can extract 10-100+ nanometer-sized particles of pure silver and are able to control the size, shape and dispersion of nanoparticles to achieve the best levels of conductivity, flexibility and adhesion. Simon says he believes using proprietary materials is “the only way” to achieve the ultimate precision required for electronics to function, as they should.
“It's really a whole system you can’t swap out any bit and expect that the end result will then work - every part is engineered for every other part,” Simon commented.
Minimal training is required to get started with the machine and engineers can continue to use regular design software packages like Cadence before Nano Dimension’s technology takes over to turn the PCB into a printable object. With the benefit of a proposed 10-minute learning curve, the DragonFly opens engineers up to new ways of thinking about designing electronics.
3D printing electronics allows engineers to iterate designs on the fly.
The current way of making PCBs is dictated by enduring restrictions. They’re either vertical or horizontal and due to the fine resolution, they’re much less forgiving than a standard printed component. With that Simon believes the potential for 3D printing is much bigger in the electronics industry than any other sector because it has the ability to completely change the idea of how PCBs are applied altogether by giving engineers more freedom and flexibility.
“Instead of vertical or horizontal traces which is what PCBs are today you can have coils, things that wind their way through geometries which are currently not possible and ultimately you can also have positioning of components within the print,” Simon explained.
Nano Dimension hopes we’ll see more electronics engineers taking risks in their approach to design thanks to the benefits afforded by 3D printing. The typical 10-day turnaround for a 10 or 12 layer PCB can often mean engineers remain conservative about the process as any mistakes can come with high risk in terms of cost and time. With 3D printed electronics, engineering teams have the ability change the way they work, moving from linear workflows to a much more flexible system where they can print an entire board or just part of a circuit, whilst iterating on the fly.
“You can explore things a little bit closer to the edge because the cost of making a mistake is thinking you're going to have to print everything again by tomorrow, that means you can afford to be much more innovative,” Simon commented.
Though it’s not going to happen tomorrow, the goal is to eventually incorporate up to 10 different inks with components to turn out complete products. This could have a strong impact on the production of consumer technologies like smart watches, where more complex electronics could be embedded into finished products in place of PCBs which currently have to be considered in any structural designs.
“Whilst we're currently printing PCBs, the long term vision is actually that PCBs should cease to exist and be a part of whatever the object is,” Simon explained. “It's just in there as an inherent part of a structural piece of the product.”
From concept to beta in months
The DragonFly is a product of 3D innovation itself. Designed using a combination of SOLIDWORKS 3D design software, Composer, Simulator and PDM Professional, the machine was conceptualised and realised in just 17 months inspired by nature, the automotive industry and the dragonfly image itself.
The machine is scheduled for commercial release later this year in key manufacturing and tech hot spots across the U.S., Europe and Asia. They’re already working with a select few companies in beta including Silicon Valley 3D printing service provider FATHOM and aerospace technology developer Israel Aerospace Industries, which will be among the first to receive a printer upon release. Nano Dimension is looking for partners in various industries including telecom, aerospace, consumer electronics, automotive and even Internet of Things. Each of these sectors have completely different needs from the technology, whether it’s simply speeding up development cycles, weight-saving or embedding into consumer products.
“Different questions are being asked across the board,” Simon concluded. “We don't have answers to all of them yet but by working in each of those areas it will get clearer all of the time.”