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3D-Printed Circuit Boards, For Solder-Free Printable Electronics

samzenpus posted more than 2 years ago | from the printing-hardware dept.

Hardware 106

An anonymous reader writes "Check out the latest success of the OpenSCAD 3d-printed electronics library. To use it, you just need a 3D printer and some conductive thread. OpenSCAD generates a component holder, and conductive thread wraps it all together — no solder, no etching chemicals, no sending out for anything. The instructable takes you through all the steps from schematic to circuit, and includes a more useful example: the fully printed LED flashlight."

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It's a shame it's on Instructables... (2, Informative)

Gordonjcp (186804) | more than 2 years ago | (#39907745)

It would have been nice to see it without having a full-screen pop-up ad telling me to subscribe to instructables whenever I click on a link.

Re:It's a shame it's on Instructables... (3, Informative)

MBCook (132727) | more than 2 years ago | (#39908633)

You can see the thing it's self on Thingiverse [thingiverse.com] .

It's a neat idea, kind of fun for first circuits. Some people in the RepRap community have been experimenting with directly printing circuits [reprap.org] . It would be very neat to see that come to fruition.

Re:It's a shame it's on Instructables... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39909695)

Instructables has always been a mess that way. I'd hoped the Autodesk purchase would've made it more like a makeprojects.

Re:It's a shame it's on Instructables... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39910047)

google adblock

It's a start. A good start. (1)

neBelcnU (663059) | more than 2 years ago | (#39907771)

It's chunky, but this is clearly the beginning of something. Anyone know anything about how this system ages and/or wears?

Re:It's a start. A good start. (5, Informative)

michael_cain (66650) | more than 2 years ago | (#39908251)

Badly, almost certainly. Think of it as a poor man's wire-wrap system and make comparisons to that.

The conductive thread has a lot more resistance than real wire-wrap wire (I would have used wire-wrap wire with stripped ends instead of conductive thread for this reason alone). You don't get the gas-tight connections that you get where wire-wrap wire is pulled over the corner of a square post, so there's potential for long-term oxidation and increased resistance (to the point of appearing to be an open circuit at low voltages). Since the "wires" aren't insulated, stretching or sagging from any loss of tension runs the risk of shorting two connections. It's going to be even more prone to loosening from vibration and flexing than wire-wrap.

Re:It's a start. A good start. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39909431)

Yeah, I agree. I'm not saying you have to go full-on wire-wrap, though honestly, I think that's both desirable and doable by 3D-printing a piece with holes/slots, and pressing wire-wrap pins into it. (Yes, kids, these are an off-the-shelf component, see, e.g. here [verotl.com] , and they're still made. Get off my lawn!)

But I don't understand why they're using "conductive thread" instead of fine-gauge copper wire, which AFAICS should work with the exact same construction method. It just doesn't make any sense to me. Then again, a lot of the 3D-printing mania doesn't make a lot of sense to me -- it feels like there's some people who get a little too hyped about the concept to think about whether it's the best way to do a particular thing. Which is cool, I guess; I was an excitable and rash youngster once...

Re:It's a start. A good start. (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39910073)

Hey, OP here.

Anyone know anything about how this system ages and/or wears?

This is a very important point of course, because the intention is actually to build something that is production grade (obviously a ways off). But so far I have been actually pretty impressed. The durability of the plastic is extremely impressive (ABS == lego plastic, and my legos have lasted forever..) -- obviously you're mostly wondering about the durability of the circuits. Now I've only built a handful of flashlights which have only been around a few weeks (distributed to a few friends as beta testers), but so far I'm pretty impressed. They could definitely be brighter, and the ergonomics could use some work. But the circuits themselves have held up pretty well.

The conductive thread has a lot more resistance than real wire-wrap wire

But I don't understand why they're using "conductive thread" instead of fine-gauge copper wire

I have tried many types of wires, threads, glues, tapes.. but after a few types of conductive threads, I have found this to have the best properties:
http://members.shaw.ca/ubik/thread/thread.html

At 0.65 ohm / cm, there's not much of a problem with the resistance. It doesn't fray either, but it's also flexible enough to wrap easily, thread holes, tie knots and whatnot (A fine gauge wire would probably work too, but would not function in my current implementation of "slide switch").

so there's potential for long-term oxidation and increased resistance

The thread is coated in silver, so I think it's pretty resistant to that. Definitely something to watch though

Also, because it's unshielded, I anticipate a lot of problems in high frequency applications. This method just seemed like the shortest path to printable electronics (design constraint being, using only one machine and the raw materials). Obviously a lot of work needs to be done to continue to increase the scope of what is "printable".

Re:It's a start. A good start. (2)

gr8_phk (621180) | more than 2 years ago | (#39911931)

Do the kids these day even know what wire-wrap is? That's the first thing I thought of too.

Opening new ways to generate a PCB (1)

Whatsmynickname (557867) | more than 2 years ago | (#39907787)

There HAS to be some way to exploit this method in a way you cannot do with traditional PCB making methods.

Re:Opening new ways to generate a PCB (5, Interesting)

firex726 (1188453) | more than 2 years ago | (#39907935)

Could they in effect print or incorporate certain components inside the PCB board?

SMD resistors are pretty small, and if they were embedded it would free up more surface area for larger components and reduce overall size.

Re:Opening new ways to generate a PCB (3, Interesting)

swalve (1980968) | more than 2 years ago | (#39908057)

You could probably do multi-plane boards with less trouble, not having to have the through holes go all the way through the board, just to connect the two planes. You could probably make multiple planes that are just resistors, or even capacitors, printed onto the substrate. They already do a lot of this stuff, I've seen boards with zig-zaggy areas that certainly appear to be resistors (not the zig zags that keep the interconnects the same length, but at right angles to each other and wrapping back onto themselves). Possibly even small transformers?

On the other hand, "conductive thread" doesn't really sound like it is going to conduct much current, so you'd probably have to have a machine that can actually print metal.

Re:Opening new ways to generate a PCB (1)

firex726 (1188453) | more than 2 years ago | (#39908079)

Yea, just make a multi-plane board, and have smaller and less heat sensitive components in the middle layers, and the larger and heat sensitive ones on the outer boards.

You could still use solder, just have the PCB built up around the component and solder; or have it done as a post for the through "hole" and have the surface component solder onto that same post and connect to the resistor underneath.

Re:Opening new ways to generate a PCB (4, Insightful)

michael_cain (66650) | more than 2 years ago | (#39908805)

Any time you mention "solder", remember the temps involved and that the plastic structure used in the construction has to withstand those temperatures. Standard FR4 printed circuit board material (fiberglass reinforced, non-reversible heatset resin) is remarkably tough stuff. Even the most heat-resistant thermoplastics the industrial 3D printing suppliers are making available are questionable for standard soldering temperatures. And it's not clear that the hobbyist printers can produce the temperatures necessary to work with those higher-melting-point thermoplastics.

Re:Opening new ways to generate a PCB (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39909875)

And this is another example of why you don't want a kitchen sink in your swiss army knife. It just doesn't make sense 90% of the time.

Re:Opening new ways to generate a PCB (1)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | more than 2 years ago | (#39909371)

Etching components is the standard way to do things in high-frequency RF applications. Through arcane mathematics, all those weirdly shaped tracks do stuff to the signal.

Re:Opening new ways to generate a PCB (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39908085)

Um, embedded printed resistors and capacitors have been around for decades. This "3d printing" fad is just preying on the ignorance and touching naiveté of the computer generation. You think everything just popped into existence five minutes ago and that people before were complete, drooling retards. Newsflash: PCBs have been around for decades and they are now approahcing the same density and complexity as early ICs. You think you'll be getting anywhere near that in your living room? Um, no?

Re:Opening new ways to generate a PCB (1)

tibit (1762298) | more than 2 years ago | (#39908293)

+1 Informative. I agree. It'd be way more useful if they had shown how to use a printer (not necessarily a 3D one!) to print resistors on a PCB. Having a cheap way to print bulk resistive material on top of a PCB, and then using a laser "router" to trim those, would be a nice way to get higher density prototype boards without dealing with 0402 parts (those parts are 20mils wide -- about as wide as signal traces were on cheap PCBs in the 80s).

Re:Opening new ways to generate a PCB (3, Insightful)

julesh (229690) | more than 2 years ago | (#39908967)

Newsflash: PCBs have been around for decades and they are now approahcing the same density and complexity as early ICs. You think you'll be getting anywhere near that in your living room? Um, no?

No, but the equipment to produce them costs somewhat more than the $2,000 a 3d printer will set you back, and will take up a lot more space than most people have available. Alternatively, hiring other people who already have the equipment will set you back $50 or so per board for small quantity orders.

The fact that this could possibly be done with reasonably cheap equipment that a hobbyist can feasibly afford *is* a breakthrough. Yes, it's irrelevant to the professionals who will continue to do things in the better way that requires more expensive equipment, but for the rest of us, this kind of thing is important.

(OTOH, the stuff linked in the article isn't exactly there yet...)

Re:Opening new ways to generate a PCB (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39909309)

Bah, this 3D printing nonsense is just a fad. In the early 90s virtual reality was going to be this huge game changer, we were all going to live in boxes with virtual reality helmets to simulate pleasant surroundings. Uh huh. Well guess what, we aren't going to be printing electronics or food at home. Just like VR has some specialist uses, 3D printing is a specialist's tool and right now we have a fad that's trending a bit and will die in a few years in the public's imagination.

Re:Opening new ways to generate a PCB (1)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | more than 2 years ago | (#39909387)

Right now, stripboard remains the choice for hobbyists. Given a few more years of refinement this new idea holds promise, but right now it's just a proof of concept.

Re:Opening new ways to generate a PCB (1)

thegarbz (1787294) | more than 2 years ago | (#39911061)

I'm calling observer bias on this. I can't remember the last time I've seen someone use stripboard for a hobby project. Veroboard seems to be far more common by a long shot on most projects floating around the internet.

That said if Hackaday is anything to go by, etching your own circuit boards using a variety of refined techniques is the real choice for hobbyists these days. It's cheap, very easy to do, and these days is only really not a choice if you want tiny through plated vias or >2 layers of traces.

Re:Opening new ways to generate a PCB (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39912149)

You realize Veroboard is stripboard? I think you mean perfboard is more common, in which case I agree completely.

Re:Opening new ways to generate a PCB (1)

julesh (229690) | more than 2 years ago | (#39918861)

Right now, stripboard remains the choice for hobbyists

Yes, but not for long. More and more projects, at least in my experience, are requiring components that aren't available with 2.54mm pin spacing, leaving stripboard a rather antiquated system that will soon be almost useless except for beginners' projects.

Re:Opening new ways to generate a PCB (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39910091)

PCB's aren't that expensive to fab yourself.

1.) photo lithography. Print your traces to a transparency. Attach to a treated PCB. expose to UV for a few minutes. Develop; etch. Costs about a hundred bucks for the equipment, and a few bucks per board.

2.) Laser print- there are a couple of variations, some use special transfer paper (press-n-peel, pcbfx), some print over color magazine photos. Heat & press image to PCB. Drop PCB+printed image (now fused together) into water to separate the PCB and toner from the paper. Etch. Remarkably effective, with very fine traces possible Also costs under a hundred bucks. You can even use a library's photocopier if you don't have a laser printer.

3.) The felt-tip marker. Draw the traces, and etch. Not professional, but it is quick and requires minimal tools.

4.). Dry transfers- rub on resist. Tedious, but it does work.

Just add a mill (2)

gr8_phk (621180) | more than 2 years ago | (#39911981)

No, but the equipment to produce them costs somewhat more than the $2,000 a 3d printer will set you back, and will take up a lot more space than most people have available.

One type of prototyping PCB machine uses a 3-axis mill to cut traces into plain copper-clad boards. Got that - a 3 axis mill. All the rep-raps and such are already 3-axis machines. They just need a mill option to cut circuit boards. Not everything needs to be "additive" manufacturing. Also, once you have a mill you can cut sheet metal. That means you can now make motors (rotor and stator laminations) sans shaft. You can also cut wood or metal shapes accurately to build structures. This would go a looooong way toward self-replication. But hey, if you insist on extruding goo for *everything* it's going to be decades before you make more than plastic toys.

Get off my lawn. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39909163)

Each new generation thinks that they just invented air. It's human nature.

The older you get, the more you just sigh, give a wry smile, and let the kids have their naive fun.

Don't worry - they'll be just like you one day - looking back at the latest generation who thinks that they just invented air and sneering in that way that only comes with experience.

To paraphrase the saying "Too soon old and too late smart".

p.s.: you've probably already worked it out old boy, but I'm getting smart, just like you.

Huh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39909889)

I'm curious. How does a post like the above that politely points out to an "old fart" that an old fart should just let the slashdotters play in their sandbox and learn for themselves get modded "-1"?

Are only petulant children and touchy old farts modding the new-age slashdot?

Re:Huh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39910075)

Are only petulant children and touchy old farts modding the new-age slashdot?

YMBNH. They're also on crack, BTW; it's a prerequisite for getting mod points.

Re:Opening new ways to generate a PCB (1)

IICV (652597) | more than 2 years ago | (#39908325)

Could they in effect print or incorporate certain components inside the PCB board?

SMD resistors are pretty small, and if they were embedded it would free up more surface area for larger components and reduce overall size.

Not with this level of technology, no - what they have here is a way to print an insulating framework, into which you put parts and then wrap conducting wire. You'd have to wrap wire around the tiny SMD resistor for that to work.

Once they have something that can print a both conducting and insulating framework, then you could maybe do things with tiny SMD parts - but at that point, you won't need to wrap wires either, it'll just be a 3-d PCB.

Re:Opening new ways to generate a PCB (1)

firex726 (1188453) | more than 2 years ago | (#39908379)

Well I didn't mean wrap wires.

I mean like 3D print a PCB, install and solder the parts and tracts. Print more of the PCB and install more parts, etc... Till you get to the surface level then install the larger components like normal. So instead of things being spread horizontally, you'll have many of the smaller parts now done vertically.

Re:Opening new ways to generate a PCB (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39909089)

You do realize that the PCB can no longer be repaired if some of the buried parts were to fail or bad connections from this unproven process. Last thing you want in a prototype is some unproven process. Did the design failed or the manufacturing fail? Good luck on debugging that.

There is also the issue of disposal as now they can not be separated. Think that's not a problem for you? Think again... In EU, the manufacturer is responsible for properly disposing of the electronics they sell you. It would add more waste to the landfill. And we complain about Apple's non-replaceable batteries.

Re:Opening new ways to generate a PCB (2)

Animats (122034) | more than 2 years ago | (#39909701)

SMD resistors are pretty small, and if they were embedded it would free up more surface area for larger components and reduce overall size.

It's quite common to have embedded SMD capacitors [dupont.com] inside of multi-layer PC boards. This is done to improve the transmission line characteristics of long traces.

Re:Opening new ways to generate a PCB (1)

PPH (736903) | more than 2 years ago | (#39908357)

At this point, I'm not certain that printed conductive paths are going to work for all applications. But this technology is already in use for printing etching/soldering masks on traditional board materials. Given some R&D into materials, a process involving building up a multi-layered board that includes plating steps to build up conductive paths alternated with board build-up could work.

For many applications, its not only the conductor characteristics that are important. The substrate (board) material's dielectric and thermal expansion are critical.

Would you download a car? (4, Interesting)

Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) | more than 2 years ago | (#39907797)

I might, and I'll be able to pretty soon, from the looks of things.

Re:Would you download a car? (1)

swalve (1980968) | more than 2 years ago | (#39908067)

You probably can now, but you still have to pay for the machine to print it and the raw materials.

Re:Would you download a car? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39908327)

Or I can contact a workshop with a machine, rent the machine and pay for the materials and receive a car.

Re:Would you download a car? (1)

gman003 (1693318) | more than 2 years ago | (#39908395)

Or, you can contact a workshop with a machine, and have them make you a 3D printer, and then you use the 3D printer to make yourself a car, as well as whatever else you want.

Re:Would you download a car? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39909525)

Or you can contact a workshop with a machine, and have them make you a 3D printer, and use the 3D printer to print rickety plastic-jointed 3D printers, and sell them to hobbyists who think they'll be able to print a car with it., and buy a car. ;)

Re:Would you download a car? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39909491)

Would you have sex with this girl without paying?

It's a first step (2)

Melkman (82959) | more than 2 years ago | (#39907843)

But I'll pass until it can print BGA's. Seriously, for the complexity it can do now a breadboard is better suited.

Conductive thread (3, Informative)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#39907877)

So instead of using that icky earth destroying copper wire, it uses conductive thread. Thread is used by girls making craft projects, what an excellent correlation with the marketing campaign that only women like health and green (seriously, WTF is up with that?). Tada, conductive thread, its great!

Seriously, conductive thread is basically wire wrapping wire with yarn/thread except the connections aren't gas tight so its not as reliable. Wirewrap is great stuff, I built a 8051 based microcontroller in '91 and it still works. Its a 8052AH-BASIC which is basically a preprogrammed 8051, predating the identical concept BASIC-STAMP and more modern ARDUINO by a decade or two. Wire wrap is the opposite of automotive/industrial/aerospace grade as it is completely intolerant of vibration and moisture. Aside from that, its great. I would guess conductive thread would be the same.

Reading the articles, its a cool psuedo Manhattan style construction using little pegs and making the electrical contacts using the psuedo wirewrap thread. I like manhattan construction for experimental stuff... need another connection point? snap off a tiny piece of DS PCB and solder it to the groundplane...

Simplest similar design would be a 3-d printer that can print Kapton filament and regular ole solder paste and a hot air gun. One problem being that a lot of repraps use Kapton for their high temp parts, so you'd need something more exotic. Aside from my having no idea if Kapton is thermo-setting or thermo-plastic and being too lazy to look it up because it ain't happening anytime soon.

If you don't want to use conductive thread, silver bearing epoxy would probably work.

Re:Conductive thread (1)

Shavano (2541114) | more than 2 years ago | (#39907991)

How about printing conductive epoxy and then press on the chips before the epoxy sets? You'd be stuck with planar layouts, but that would be fine for many circuits You could even do two-sided assemblies if you're willing to add drill stages and a second printing step.

Re:Conductive thread (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#39908647)

If the burning point of the epoxy is higher than the melting point of the substrate, you can just print over it and melt on another layer, I suppose.
Epoxy is a thermoset, it doesn't melt, just burns above 200 degrees C or so (depends on type).

Re:Conductive thread (1)

Osgeld (1900440) | more than 2 years ago | (#39909331)

sounds like an awful lot of thought and effort just to avoid solder paste

Re:Conductive thread (2)

hjf (703092) | more than 2 years ago | (#39909473)

Wire wrap is not aerospace grade? You might want to google for the apollo computer... :P

Re:Conductive thread (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39909503)

That was also over half a century ago. We have better stuff now.

Re:Conductive thread (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39911987)

Wire wrap is the opposite of automotive/industrial/aerospace grade as it is completely intolerant of vibration and moisture. Aside from that, its great.

This is not +5 Informative, this is -1 Flamebait; it couldn't be more wrong.

Mods on crack and all that.

Clunky is right (3, Informative)

pcjunky (517872) | more than 2 years ago | (#39907911)

Not impressed. I can hand solder a circuit smaller and much cheaper on standard proto board with plated through holes. Done this many times with better results. For circuits I am going to make more than 1 or 2 of just download the free ExpressPCB program and for around $55 you can three boards.

Re:Clunky is right (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39907981)

Meh, I make SMD boards simply with some copper clad board, a laser printer, and some home made etchant (cupric chloride). I either hand solder or use a hotplate with solder paste.

Takes about 30 minutes from printing the circuit to finished product. Costs about $1 not including the parts I solder on and I have a high quality physically small product.

Re:Clunky is right (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39908285)

"home made" etchant? Do tell. Cupric chloride is the waste from etching with ferric chloride.

Re:Clunky is right (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39909139)

Google for cupric chloride. It is used as echant.
Basically it is used as an oxidizer and requires additional hydrochloric acid. The Cu+ need to be oxidized by a supply of air back to Cu2+.

Re:Clunky is right (1)

tibit (1762298) | more than 2 years ago | (#39908313)

Heck, if you use thin laminate, and tweak your laser printer's fuser to run hotter, you can print directly on the laminate without any transfer steps. Print, etch, drill -- for one-sided boards it doesn't get much easier than that.

Re:Clunky is right (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39909705)

Heck, if you chemically treat the copper to give a less-reflective surface, and tweak your laser printer so the laser's hot enough (I recommend a Nd:YAG mod), you can just burn the circuit right there and skip etching, too.

Re:Clunky is right (1)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | more than 2 years ago | (#39909405)

Cupric?

Cupric?!

It's Copper(II) chloride! Use the modern name!

Re:Clunky is right (1)

x3CDA84B (2592699) | more than 2 years ago | (#39909753)

How do you dispose of the used etchant? Do you have a fume hood for using it, or do you do it outside? Would you trust a child to use your etching method?

This technique isn't supposed to replace DIY PCB etching or soldering. It's another way of doing things that for some people will probably be a lot less of a headache and more fun. It's somewhere in-between DIY PCBs and one of those old "1000-in-1" electronics kits with the spring connectors.

Think of non-technical people who just want to make something like a guitar pedal or a panel of flashing LEDs. With this method, they can do that without having to worry about fumes or disposing of material that's considered hazardous waste in most areas.

It's the Lego Mindstorm or Technics of DIY electronics, and that's a great thing considering how few people consider that field accessible today.

Re:Clunky is right (4, Funny)

chuckymonkey (1059244) | more than 2 years ago | (#39908005)

Not impressed, my vacuum tubes were plenty good enough for adding and subtracting. They're cheaper than those new "transistors" too. I can put an array of tubes together for much cheaper than you can put transistors on a board.

Re:Clunky is right (1)

Ellis D. Tripp (755736) | more than 2 years ago | (#39908965)

They're cheaper than those new "transistors" too. I can put an array of tubes together for much cheaper than you can put transistors on a board.

Where are you buying your tubes? One thing tubes definitely aren't these days is CHEAP...

Re:Clunky is right (2)

chuckymonkey (1059244) | more than 2 years ago | (#39909355)

I don't actually, I wasn't even trying to be funny. I was showing the absurdity of an argument like that, saying that something is unimpressive merely because you can do it cheaper and smaller a different way doesn't make that way necessarily better. This is the first use of this, much like anything else it can get smaller and faster as time goes on. How much fun would it be to have a small 3D printer on your desk to rapid prototype boards? Things like this eventually lead there.

Re:Clunky is right (1)

xded (1046894) | more than 2 years ago | (#39910057)

I can put an array of tubes together for much cheaper than you can put transistors on a board.

Actually, no, you can't. What was your point again?

Re:Clunky is right (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39908053)

$55 you can three boards?

Try $25 for 10 boards from SeeedStudio and no need for ExpressPCB junk software....

Re:Clunky is right (1)

pfarber (1123907) | more than 2 years ago | (#39909303)

You need some other CAD software (anything free?)

You need to properly name and layout multiple files. No custom PBC sizes for custom enclosures (say circular, or with tabs/tapers etc)

You have to wait a LLOONNGGGG time.

For novice/intermediate users this is better how?

Re:Clunky is right (2)

IICV (652597) | more than 2 years ago | (#39908347)

Yeah, you can solder a much smaller project - and it would probably take twice as long to solder the circuit than it takes to wrap it.

This stuff is for prototyping and playing around with, not making production models. You could give something like this to a kid who doesn't know how to solder as an introduction to the idea of making circuits, for instance.

Re:Clunky is right (1)

rev0lt (1950662) | more than 2 years ago | (#39908587)

This stuff is for prototyping and playing around with, not making production models.

So, you already have breadboards, spring-based terminals (used in old teaching kits), and solder-based development pcb's. And my favourite - a sheet of thick non-conductive material (such as acetate-based or bakelite boards, or even cardboard) with holes punched in so you could assemble the connections on one side of the card. There were even tools for that - check http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wiring_pencil [wikipedia.org]

fun for hobbyists (3, Informative)

Shavano (2541114) | more than 2 years ago | (#39907969)

But it will probably never work for real products. I'd never have the gall to sell an electronic product with connections made of conductive thread. I'd sooner hand-wire it together on perf board.

3D printing works if you need to make one or five objects that don't need to be very robust. But you don't have to get into very high numbers at all before it's cheaper get injection-molded custom parts that are much stronger.

Re:fun for hobbyists (2)

PPH (736903) | more than 2 years ago | (#39908257)

Hey! Boeing had the balls to sell wire-wrapped 747s. If its good enough for them, its good enough for you.

Re:fun for hobbyists (2)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 2 years ago | (#39908399)

Automated wire wrapping done with boxed wire was indeed used for spacecraft, satellites and aircraft in the 1960s and 1970s, but the technique largely fell out of favour due to cost (not reliability) reasons. Surface mount is the usual way now.

Re:fun for hobbyists (1)

jkflying (2190798) | more than 2 years ago | (#39908865)

Wire wrap vs. conductive thread - wire wrap is air sealed so it doesn't corrode, giving it a decent working life and resistance to corrosion. Conductive thread is not air sealed, so it oxidises fairly quickly and fails.

Laying the groundwork (3, Insightful)

Immerman (2627577) | more than 2 years ago | (#39908549)

Actually even small quality injection molds can easily run into the multiple thousands of dollars, so while you're correct for commercial runs, for pretty much anything below that, i.e. most non-commercial parts, 3D printing is starting to look good, especially on the more robust commercial processes.

I'll grant you the strength issue - I think it'll be a while before 3D printers become competitive in that realm, though milling machines don't have that issue. The architectural school of "mass customization" is beginning to take advantage of this - it's no longer dramatically more expensive to cut custom parts from base stock than it is to cut standardized parts - it's all computer controlled and comes down to how long the cuts are and how much material is wasted do to poor component packing on the stock. Especially if a structure can be built from multiples of only a few custom pieces it can rapidly be built by a few people given a big pile of parts and lego-style assembly instructions, offsetting the higher component cost with lower assembly costs (fewer, and potentially less-skilled, man hours required)

At this point 3D printing is largely a hobbyist and prototyping tool, as is to be expected. After all it's only just starting to become affordable, and people are still exploring its potential. A few decades ago computers were in a similar sort of niche, relegated to hobbyists and research institutions. The 3D printing techniques that are being developed now are sort of the equivalent to the development of the bubble sort - poor performance, but it gets the job done, and thus expands the sphere of what's possible, allowing more hobbyists to explore a wider range of possible applications.

Re:Laying the groundwork (1)

Osgeld (1900440) | more than 2 years ago | (#39909411)

ugh yea ok BUT in less than half the time that 3D printers have been out personal computers went from nerds in garages to a mega industry where people were buying them up as fast as they can make them.

3D printers are NOT the next computer revolution, its already proven that, its more akin to the Laser Disc, its around, a very small subset of people will use it, and maybe in 30 years it may become the DVD if they can bring the cost and size down, and make the quality not suck.

Re:Laying the groundwork (2)

Immerman (2627577) | more than 2 years ago | (#39909963)

I think you're jumping the gun a bit with that claim - the first non-human computer, Charles Babbage's difference engine, was designed in 1822s. The first programmable computer, Konrad Zuse's Z1, wasn't completed until 1938, and the first stored-program (i.e. software-driven) computer wasn't delivered until 1950. Even from there it took another 18 years until 1968 before the first mass-market computer, the HP 9100A, was sold, and we were in the mid-70s before computers were marketed to individuals rather than just businesses (Apple I in 1976).

Also keep in mind that general-purpose computing didn't start with nerds in garages, it started with extremely expensive mainframes in universities, just as 3D printing started with extremely expensive rapid prototyping machines. It's when computers finally became cheap enough for nerds in garages that there was an explosion of interesting new applications, and we're really not at that point yet with 3D printers. A crude hand-wired computer hooked up to a TV was basically capable of doing all the same number-crunching as a mainframe, just not as much of it - all the "magic" happened inside the factory-produced CPU. I challenge you to show me a hobbyist 3D printer that is even in the same ballpark as a rapid prototyping machine. It doesn't exist yet - we're still at the stage of hobbyists building their own CPUs from vacuum tubes and transistors, only the most hard-core geeks are playing.

Even more significantly the personal manufacturing revolution (3D printing is really just the first step since it's relatively straightforward and flexible) is a hardware revolution - software instructions snap together like an infinite box of perfect Legos, hardware has to deal with the real world where no two things are identical, nothing works exactly as it should, and every failed attempt costs money for supplies rather than just the time to try it.

So yeah, it's going to take off a lot slower, and there will be fewer early adopters since it'll be a while before they can do very much with widespread appeal, but the eventual impact of decentralized manufacturing may be almost as large.

For those that think this is "clunky" (5, Insightful)

p51d007 (656414) | more than 2 years ago | (#39908071)

You are obviously too young to remember vacuum tubes. I have been working in electronics since the early 70's as a kid, tv shops in the mid-late 70's. I have watched circuits shrink over the years, from no circuit board (point wired tv chassis), to huge printed circuit board, to the switch over from tubes to transistors (and the RCA nuvistor), then onto LSI chips. A 25" color TV use to take two strong men to lift & move around. Now, a housewife can hang one on a wall. Given time, the 3d printing will shrink also.

Carbon ink? (1)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 2 years ago | (#39908119)

If you can change 'ink' in the process of 'printing', just change it to a carbon based 'ink', then you can print more traditional traces. Then if you print more of your inert substrate over it, its even 'sealed' from the elements.

( and i know its not ink, i'm just sticking with the analogy of a printer )

what's the cost, how durable is it? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39908131)

Can it be used by manufacturing to make a quality product?

40 Year Old Technology - nothing new here (1)

twisted_pare (1714106) | more than 2 years ago | (#39908187)

This is how things were made when most of the readers on the site were not yet born. Nothing new here folds. Just check out the Wikipedia article on it. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wire_wrap#Automated_wire_wrapping [wikipedia.org]

Re:40 Year Old Technology - nothing new here (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39908219)

The "new" thing here is not the end product, it's the process. The wire wrap pieces were 3D printed at home -- I'm pretty sure that part is new.

Re:40 Year Old Technology - nothing new here (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39908263)

The "new" thing here is not the end product, it's the process. The wire wrap pieces can be 3D printed at your mother's basement -- I'm pretty sure that part is new.

FTFY

Re:40 Year Old Technology - nothing new here (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39908299)

And if you live there, it would be your "home", would it not?

Re:40 Year Old Technology - nothing new here (1)

julesh (229690) | more than 2 years ago | (#39909007)

The problem with automated wire wrapping is the cost of the equipment - about $20,000. The equipment needed for the method described in TFA costs about a tenth that.

Really scraping the barrel (1)

WillHirsch (2511496) | more than 2 years ago | (#39908303)

So now we're using 3D printers to make things that are already printed in real life?

Next week, a 3D-printed book. No ink, kids! Just delicious ABS plastic pages with the letters raised from the surface.

All told, this works quite well as a parable for why the benefits of 3D printing will not lead to everyone manufacturing all their own consumer products at home, nor will manufacturers be replacing any substantial volume of their processes with 3D printing.

Re:Really scraping the barrel (1)

Amouth (879122) | more than 2 years ago | (#39908439)

Next week, a 3D-printed book. No ink, kids! Just delicious ABS plastic pages with the letters raised from the surface.

you know it might be obvious to some but i've never thought if it - machine translation/conversion of eBooks into think film printed braille.

Re:Really scraping the barrel (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39909611)

Or you could use an off-the-shelf Braille printer [wikipedia.org] , and get embossed paper, just like real Braille books, instead of a chunky stack of plastic sheets -- analagous to how you would use an ink printer to "convert" an ebook to a conventional-book-like form.

Or did you not realize Braille books were a thing, either?

Re:Really scraping the barrel (1)

WillHirsch (2511496) | more than 2 years ago | (#39909913)

Or indeed a Refreshable Braille display [wikipedia.org] which lets you read "eBooks", among other things, without printing them out at all.

Re:Really scraping the barrel (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39908833)

How dare you rain on the geek's 3D jizz fest? This will revolutionize the world! We'll never nned to work again! Just like when we switched from coal to oil! Oh, wait... No, it's just like when computers were supposed to lead to the leisure society! No, wait, that's not it either... Um, stop raining on my parade!

Re:Really scraping the barrel (1)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | more than 2 years ago | (#39909463)

Actually not an entirely useless idea. Raised lettering sounds a lot like an old-fashioned printing plate. A 3d printer of sufficient resolution (one of the pricier models) could produce printing plates by that method, even if they aren't good for as long as a metal plate. While it'd still cost more per-page by far than a common laser printer, it'd be ideal for things like decorative wall markings or custom one-off ink stamps. So when you're doing, say, a special event requiring payment, you can print a stamp with the event logo to mark people's hands to indicate they have paid.

Re:Really scraping the barrel (1)

WillHirsch (2511496) | more than 2 years ago | (#39910085)

Depending on the use case you pick, there are processes which are inherently faster and higher quality, even for raised lettering, that already exist - just like for PCBs and books.

Additive manufacturing is generally only efficient at producing shapes on a one-off basis if they vary along more than two axes, on a bulk basis if they are impossible to manufacture by other means, or in the narrow margin in between where the batch is too small to take advantage of other scalable processes. It turns out that in real life there are very few things we use that match those criteria, and not many things that do that we would use if only it were easier to make them.

Re:Really scraping the barrel (1)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 2 years ago | (#39920129)

Additive manufacturing is generally only efficient at producing shapes on a one-off basis if they vary along more than two axes, on a bulk basis if they are impossible to manufacture by other means, or in the narrow margin in between where the batch is too small to take advantage of other scalable processes. It turns out that in real life there are very few things we use that match those criteria, and not many things that do that we would use if only it were easier to make them.

While I agree with your first sentence, this one really doesn't make much sense to me. I can only think of a few processes where subtractive manufacturing is used to good effect; most processes are either additive or the terms don't apply. For instance, printing (on paper): that certainly isn't a subtractive process; a printer shoots ink or toner onto a blank page. Printing inks isn't subtractive either; the ink is either printed or silkscreened onto the surface (T-shirt, plastic container, etc.) and then baked. PCBs are both additive and subtractive; the copper layers are etched, which is subtractive, but then they're piled up and laminated together, which is additive (this is for 4+ layer boards, which most advanced circuits use these days). Even simple two-layer boards have to have the thru-holes added in (they're drilled out first, then barrel inserts are added into the holes to make them plated-thru).

Re:Really scraping the barrel (1)

WillHirsch (2511496) | more than 2 years ago | (#39921219)

I should have been more specific, but the term "additive manufacturing" is usually used for processes that make 3D shapes out of homogeneous materials - especially in this context. Assembly, bonding, finishing, and other processes that combine materials are a different matter.

In the case of TFA, the assembly is all done by hand and the point of interest is the means of manufacture of the board that forms the structural base for the circuit. Never in a million years would you make a two-layer PCB that didn't have to be drilled before you put in the barrel inserts.

Incidentally, in the context of shaping materials, there are lots of processes which are neither additive nor subtractive like rolling, extrusion and anything involving moulds.

psikolojikanaliz (0)

psikolojikanaliz (2632953) | more than 2 years ago | (#39908363)

Have a nice writing

Thread opens new doors (1)

Immerman (2627577) | more than 2 years ago | (#39908741)

Okay, I'm sorry to say that from a glance at the TFA it looks like they're talking about installing the thread by hand, but if that part is automated it could open up new doors outside of electronics as well.

  For example - when building up a structural component what if you lay down a "net" of polyester thread between layers - you could potentially get a dramatic increase in the strength and durability of the finished part, especially if you carefully aligned the thread to maximize it's impact.

Or, if doing true 3D construction we could do things like wrapping a form in a cocoon of thread and binder to form an immensely strong structure. I envision printing a layered form out of frosting or some other temporary substrate, which is then cocooned using large open spirals of thread so that it takes dozens of layers before the form is hidden and any given area has lots of large-angle thread intersections where forces can be distributed between layers rather than forming easily cracked seams where the thread is all aligned in the same direction. The same basic hardware could work with anything from cheap polyester thread to carbon fiber, depending on the cost/strength ratio best suited to the application.

Re:Thread opens new doors (1)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 2 years ago | (#39920929)

I'm sorry, but the whole idea looks pretty dumb to me except for hobbyists to play around with (but without getting anything really useful as a result). Maybe if some key problems are solved it'll spawn a revolution in the electronics industry, but I don't see how (and if I did, I'd be revolutionizing the industry myself). The main problem I see here is the "conductive thread". It's not very conductive, nor is it durable or robust. It doesn't make good long-term connections with parts made primarily of tin.

This whole scheme is attempting to replace PCBs. Let's step back a bit, and look at why we use PCBs in the first place. It's because point-to-point wiring is extremely time-consuming, mistake-prone, and inefficient. Back in the really old days, everything was point-to-point wiring: a bunch of parts were cobbled together somehow, and wires were soldered between their leads. Wire (made usually of copper or tin-plated copper) was used because it doesn't degrade (except maybe for surface corrosion), is flexible, and highly conductive; solder was used because it formed a gastight seal between the wire and components, was fairly easy to work with, and was extremely durable and reliable (esp. after they added lead to stop tin whiskers from forming). Once a connection was made properly, you could expect that joint to last indefinitely, unless mechanical stress caused fatigue failure. Later, people got tired of spending so much time soldering wires everywhere, and invented Printed Wiring Boards (PWBs), or PCBs as they're called everywhere except in the US Defense industry which likes to act like it's still 1950 and still calls then PWBs. So now, the "wires" are copper tracks on a fiberglass board, but the tin-leaded components are still soldered to it, using solder-filled holes in the board to make connections between the tracks and the leads. Then, the space program happened and "surface-mount" PCBs were invented, called SMT; this got rid of the holes (except for vias and larger components), made the components smaller, and stuck them directly onto the surface of the board with solder. Later, we even made extremely high-density IC packages called BGAs that eliminated the leads and replaced them with copper/tin pads like a small PCB (some BGAs in fact are small PCBs with a chip wire-bonded to it) in a grid array, and then connect these to a larger main PCB that has a matching grid array of small pads, using balls of solder that melt in an oven and bond the BGA package to the board directly. But in all cases, the fundamental way we make connections between different electronic components is with conductive metal (either a wire or a copper trace on a fiberglass board), and tin solder to make a gastight permanent seal between the component lead and the conductive metal used as an interconnect. Anything that replaces this will have to have some way of making interconnects between existing (tin-leaded) components that is similarly durable.

Now maybe, in the future, we'll move to something else for interconnects, maybe carbon fiber or PCBs that resemble today's ICs more, maybe something using conductive epoxy, but those are going to be even farther away from today's technology in accessibility to hobbyists and low- or medium-volume producers. If someone does come up with something that is even easier than PCBs and tin solder, it'll probably revolutionize at least part of the electronics industry. But conductive thread isn't it. For now, PCBs and solder are hard to beat: PCBs make it easy to make lots of complex interconnections without the reliability and human-error problems of point-to-point wiring, and they're fairly quick: you can buy reasonably-priced machines now to mill PCBs out of copper-clad boards, or you can order them from China in ~100-unit quantities for a couple hundred dollars, or you can get them from low-volume places like batchpcb.com or dorkbotpdx or seeedstudio for ~$20. These inexpensive options will take a few weeks to get to you, but imagine how much time it takes to make point-to-point connections for anything but a very simple circuit. For a circuit with ~20 components, several of those being ICs, you're looking at dozens of connections, and all at a very small scale with today's surface-mount packages that are more popular (a lot of things aren't even available in the old DIP packages). It's faster to just lay out your circuit on a free CAD program, send it off to be made, and work on something else for 3 weeks while you wait for them to arrive.

Sheesh, a lot of haters here... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39909197)

I'm surprised at how much hate and vitriol are being spewed here on slashdot. To the point of throwing around "geek" as an insult regarding this stuff. 3D printing is in its infancy, it's useful for rapid prototyping of things. Sure it has its drawbacks and limitations, but some of us are hackers (in the original sense of the term, not the MSM version) and tinkerers.

Sure, a lot of things on www.thingiverse.com (a repository for DIYers and digital objects) are just _more_ parts for _more_ 3D printers, but there is some useful stuff there too. This is just someones attempt at making the spectrum for 3D printers broader and more useful. All this hate is honestly pretty low of the slashdot community.

Re:Sheesh, a lot of haters here... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39910195)

The problem is that the geek world (no insult intended) is divided roughly into two camps: those who like that technology can help us do cool new things, and those who like to do things with cool new technology.

3D printing is a cool new technology but the spectrum of things for which it is or will be useful for is extremely limited. Electrical circuits are one example of something that will never, ever be made using 3D printing for reasons of usefulness. You can put almost all the "hate" down to the people in the first camp who get offended by misguided statements of usefulness which risk diverting effort away from things which are in fact going to be useful. You can play with 3D printers to your heart's content just like you can build a Tesla coil or a Tron suit, put your toaster on the internet or take part in obfuscated code contests. Just don't put the word "useful" in the same sentence as "fully 3D printed LED flashlight".

Re:Sheesh, a lot of haters here... (1)

mattr (78516) | more than 2 years ago | (#39911449)

Boy am I happy you said never ever in italics.

That makes it almost certain to come true.

Re:Sheesh, a lot of haters here... (1)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 2 years ago | (#39921059)

Electrical circuits are one example of something that will never, ever be made using 3D printing for reasons of usefulness.

You don't know that. You're absolutely right that this particular technology is useless for anything actually useful, however never say "never"; you don't know if someone will come up with something that really is better than the current state-of-the-art. I agree it's pretty dubious; the fundamental problem is that for electronics work, you need a good way of making electrical interconnections that is very low-resistance and very reliable and durable. Solder and copper PCB traces work well for this. Maybe in the future carbon fiber and conductive epoxy of some kind will take over, I don't know. But this "conductive thread" crap certainly isn't it; it has a very high resistance and doesn't form reliable connections to existing tin-leaded components. So this stuff does seem like a "cart before the horse" situation.

Honestly, if someone does come up with a "3D electronics printer" of some kind, I don't see how it can be much better or cheaper than just milling PCBs from blank copper-clad boards (you can buy CNC machines on Ebay to do this now for ~$1000-2000) and using solder paste and a toaster oven to solder the components on. If you're willing to wait 3 weeks to get your PCBs, it's cheaper and easier than ever now to do small-scale electronics manufacturing thanks to places like batchpcb.com and higher-volume places in China like pcbcart.com. All you need is PCB software (free: Kicad, gEDA), components (mouser.com, digikey.com), solder paste (Ebay, manncorp.com), a plastic solder stencil (polulu.com, ohararp.com), and a toaster oven.

Has potential, but not with "thread". (1)

Animats (122034) | more than 2 years ago | (#39909721)

With some commercial STL machines (not the amateur ones) you can lay down multiple materials with different properties. Mark Cutkosky [stanford.edu] at Stanford has done this for some flexible robot parts. He's trying for biological-like structures, where everything is flexible but still highly structured.

The 1970s called ... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39909801)

... they are flattered that we are trying to imitate their technology.

Back before we really understood pcb technology and clock speeds were low, automated wire wrap was a viable technology. For a few years that was THE way to make a computer backplane. The technology had some surprising advantages. One, that wasn't obvious, was that the equipment was robust in a heavy vibration environment.

We could do conductive thread (or thin wire) but not using wire wrap. Mark Tilden showed that connections can be done using silver based ink (the stuff used for repairing rear window defoggers). The machine could lay the wires, tack them in place and then squirt some conductive ink on the connections. Once those were dry, it could then cover everything with plastic.

Just because the first iteration of something looks like a kludge, it doesn't mean that it won't eventually become viable. Remember that the first iteration of printed circuits was an attempt to literally print the circuits (rather than etching them).

"you wouldnt download a car" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39911023)

cant wait.

really want it to reach a point where hard modding consumer electronics isnt so elementary, but is rather a robust reworking of their innards via personal fabrication.

theres a fair number of people who still cling to very specific CRTs (the 16:10 sony gdm-fw900, for example)... how lovely itd be to go a bit full-retard and turn that 24" 100+ lbs 2304x1440 beast into a 30" ~200 lbs 4k monster.

conductive thread wrong choice (1)

confused one (671304) | more than 2 years ago | (#39914269)

Should have purged the machine and made a final pass with conductive resin loaded in the machine. Then the machine could have printed the circuit traces on the surface of the part. For what it's worth, this is reminiscent of old Radio Shack kits.
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