Printed electronics offers some significant advantages in terms of cost, design flexibility and time to fully functional prototype. However, these advantages normally come with issues related to reliability and circuit performance due to the material properties of printed electronic conductors and insulators not meeting the high-performance standard of materials developed specifically for that application. Work being done at Northrop Grumman with Optomec’s Aerosol Jet technology presses back against this routine trade-off for most applications as high performance interconnects and insulation dielectrics are being put through extensive reliability testing, proving that the performance of printed electronic structures can perform in real-world applications.

We are continually impressed with the performance and reliability of printed interconnects for high frequency RF applications. Researchers at Northrop Grumman have been working to demonstrate competent, additively-printed components on GaAs substrates. The paper titled: “Direct On-Chip 3-D Aerosol Jet Printing With High Reliability” written by a team from Northrop Grumman published in IEEE Transactions Vol. 7, No. 8, shares details on how this is possible. It describes the printing of dielectric layers and bridge-type gold interconnects on GaAs-based microwave integrated circuits or MMIC’s. The MMIC devices were put through a battery of RF testing and reliability testing and showed to have no detriment to RF performance even with extensive thermal shock, thermal cycle, and current stress tests being completed.

This work, completed by one of the world’s foremost companies in the defense marketplace for integrated circuits, Northrop Grumman, showcases Aerosol Jet’s flexibility as well as the reliability of printed features made with it. Its functionality with respect to feature size, materials flexibility, high stand off distance and digital cad to path ability enabled this work to be done. However, the work done by Xing Lan and his team is novel and pushes the boundaries of what can be done with Aerosol Jet with regards to RF GaAs Microwave structures. A detailed overview of the printing process, electrical design of circuits, intended performance (reliability & RF), measured performance and test setups are presented.

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