An oft -overlooked subset of the additive manufacturing world, 3D-printed electronics have a long history and a great future.
Cool, amazing, useful or fun. Any one of these words may describe 3D-printed parts, but the conversation usually centers on end-parts with structural functions — not electrical. Or so you may think. Turns out the first commercially available 3D-printing system for electrical applications came out more than a decade ago and creative work has been escalating ever since.
But what defines 3D-printed electronics, as opposed to standard printed electronics? Does it refer to the materials, i.e., printing layers of electrically conductive plastic? Is it a process that can deposit silver traces alongside plastic in a single build cycle? Or are we talking about generating printed circuitry that conforms to 3D-surface topology, eliminating the need for separate printed-circuit boards (PCBs)? The answer is all of the above and more as new approaches crop up, suitable for applications both exotic and mundane.