This article reviews the application of 3D printing to build electronics, where conductive and non-conductive materials are joined to build circuit boards. 

Note that 3D printing can also be applied to mechanical design, which is covered in this article. It can also be used to make an electrical system, which is covered in this article.

The traditional means of producing circuit boards has been printing. However, 3D printing offers some new benefits when applied to electronics and circuit boards. Modern 3D printers can include both conductive and non-conductive materials. Interestingly, the conductive materials don’t just include metals: new plastics have been developed that are conductive. Plastic circuits are becoming real.

Note that the application of 3D printing to electrical systems is in a research and development phase.

There are three key implications of the advances of 3D printing for circuit boards.

  1. The integration of conductive plastic alongside non-conductive plastics has implications for the structural stability of circuit boards. With the right material combinations, the resulting circuit boards can be more structurally sound.
  2. One advantage of using 3D printing in mechanical design is part consolidation. The same can be applied to circuit boards. Circuit boards can be integrated with their enclosures, forming a single, more structurally stable, component.
  3. Another application of this technology is to integrate circuit board functionality into the broader mechanical components in the product. This means embedding traces within the mechanical components. The concept of a separate circuit board and separate enclosure goes away completely.

Be aware that there still are outstanding issues in terms of signal and power integrity with 3D printed circuit boards. However, this is a rapidly evolving space. Expect to hear about more advances from this front soon.