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Advantages of Fused Deposition Modeling for Structural Electronics Integration Demonstrated in a Circuit for a Space Application
Keywords: Modeling, Printed Electronics, Circuit
An area of particular interest among manufacturers has been the reduction of unnecessary and costly manufacturing process steps. Steps that are non-value-added tend to decrease yield and add process variability, have been under constant scrutiny as those responsible look for ways to eliminate them. Toward this goal, 3D additive manufacturing processes offer much promise, since they eliminate wasteful activities compared to traditional manufacturing technologies. Although their application in producing functional finished products is relatively new, additive processes can greatly reduce raw material waste, product development time and cost. Furthermore, additive layered approaches eliminate the need for specialized tooling development and maintenance, reducing product life cycle costs even further. Specific to this paper, the strengths of additive manufacturing have been leveraged to achieve the creation of novel 3D structural electronics, devices that bypass the need for printed circuit boards by integrating components into the structure of the device and applying direct-print micro-dispensing as a means of providing electrical interconnect. Initially fabricated with stereo-lithography, the devices revealed immediate benefits such as improved volumetric efficiencies and novel, arbitrary component placement were realized. However, frequent issues with material compatibility and durability have driven the effort increasingly toward more functional and less reactive substrate materials. In this paper, we discuss the steps taken to alleviate the shortcomings of stereo lithography by migrating towards Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) as the more favorable technology. This technology makes use of thermoplastics, which are lower in cost and have superior mechanical properties compared to photopolymers. We explore the challenges and advantages of 3D additive manufacturing with electronics integration and further describe the work done on a space application built under CubeSat guidelines and scheduled to launch in 2012.
Rudy Salas, Student
The University of Texas at El Paso
El Paso, TX

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