Additive processes make their move

Printing electronic circuit boards on all sorts of thin substrates is something of a holy grail for system designers. The days when substrates can take many shapes with little regard for substrate material properties are inching closer, driven in large part by advances in additive processes.

Printing electronic circuits onto substrates has been around for years, but it’s never really challenged subtractive techniques. But those days may be changing. Additive processes seem likely to gain a foothold for creating products as diverse as RFID tags, smart displays and organic LEDs.

OLEDs are helping fuel this push, primarily in cell phones, where printing circuits onto extremely thin substrates is critically important. Active Matrix OLEDs are seeing steady growth as cell phones move to bigger displays, according to iSuppli. The research groups predicts that OLED usage in TV will be even greater than in phones by 2015, largely because TV screens are comparatively huge.

Many things have to happen before vendors start making inexpensive smart displays and printing circuits and antennas on the plastic shells of cell phones. IPC is starting four programs that will help make these things happen. Design guidelines will describe best practices and a pair of documents will detail materials for both substrates and additive printing. The final development project will focus on end article reliability. Together, these standards and guidelines will create a solid infrastructure for additive circuit manufacturing.

Anyone who’s interested in working on these fields and learning more about the technology should contact Dave Torp (DaveTorp@ipc.org).

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