It’s almost becoming difficult to pick up a magazine or newspaper without reading about the benefits of additive manufacturing. From Time to Forbes to the Chicago Tribune, the consumer press has noticed that building components up instead of etching or milling away unwanted materials is going to transform manufacturing in many industries.
Many of these applications are in consumer products or other areas where failures aren’t critical. But additive processes are rapidly moving into high reliability areas. Pratt & Whitney, a manufacturer of turbine engines, is preparing to implement them on an engine that’s going into production for a new Bombardier jet.
P&W is using additive to make a curving tube that’s normally made by brazing several components together. This change is being monitored by the top executives. P&W president David Hess recently told a trade press gathering that “additive manufacturing has huge advantages from a cost standpoint.”
This rapid transition from inexpensive consumer parts to the high reliability demands of the aircraft industry could well occur in electronic products. Board fabricators are starting to use printed electronics to build up simple devices like heaters.
But as these additive circuit board technologies gain acceptance, it’s likely that they’ll be tweaked to work in high rel environments. After all, if metal tubes can work in the extremely stressful environment of a jet engine manifold, it seems plausible that the comparatively small volumes of conductive materials used on circuit boards can be designed to withstand their operating environment.
IPC is helping make sure that wherever they’re used, additive printed board processes efficiently move from design to production. Those who want to find out more about this rapidly advancing technology will find a lot of help from the IPC Printed Electronics Initiative.