OPEN up any electronic device and inside there are circuit boards, components and bundles of wire. Assembling these items into a product like a phone can be a tedious, labour-intensive process, and one that is often subcontracted to low-wage countries such as China. Now new ways of printing electronics in three dimensions are being developed. This makes it possible to incorporate circuitry and components into the material the product is made from, such as the phone’s case. It could revolutionise the way electronic goods are made.
Printing electronics is not new; screen printing, lithography, inkjet and other processes have long been used to manufacture circuit boards and components. But the technologies are improving rapidly and now allow electronics to be printed on a greater variety of surfaces. In the latest developments, electronics printing is being combined with “additive manufacturing”, which uses machines popularly known as 3D printers to build solid objects out of material, one layer at a time.