It’s been said that, to see what’s ahead for the semiconductor chip market, one simply has to look at the printed circuit board (PCB) market and think smaller. Let’s apply that reasoning to emerging additive manufacturing and 3D printing technologies for electronics.
Today, fully functional PCBs – with integrated circuit components and other embedded semiconductor devices – can be created with 3D printers. Granted, the manufacturing is for low volume and typically low performance applications like the IoT. The most advanced 3D printing processes currently provides near micron-level resolution (around the 130um semiconductor process node equivalent) and the co-deposition of multiple materials.
Co-deposition or multi-material deposition is critical for the 3D printing integrated circuits because conductors and semiconducting materials must be printed simultaneously. Nascent multi-material deposition technology addresses one of the major drawbacks of main existing 3D printing technologies, namely, that they only allow one material to be printed at a time. Applications like semiconductor chip fabrication require the integration of different materials at the same time.
A recent collaborative projected between the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) and American Semiconductor demonstrate the current state of the chip fabrication with 3D printing techniques. The AFRL and American Semiconductor have produced a flexible silicon-on-polymer chip with more than 7,000 times the memory capability of any current flexible integrated circuit on the market today. The manufacturing takes advantage of flexible hybrid electronics, integrating traditional manufacturing techniques with 3D electronic printing to create thin, flexible semiconductors that can augment efforts in wearable technology, asset monitoring, logistics and more. This flexible system-on-chip (SoC) is ideal for many IoT applications.
John Blyler is a Design News senior editor, covering the electronics and advanced manufacturing spaces. With a BS in Engineering Physics and an MS in Electrical Engineering, he has years of hardware-software-network systems experience as an editor and engineer within the advanced manufacturing, IoT and semiconductor industries. John has co-authored books related to system engineering and electronics for IEEE, Wiley, and Elsevier.