InnovationLab, a specialist in printed electronics “from lab to fab”, has achieved a breakthrough in additive manufacturing of printed circuit boards (PCBs) – helping meet higher environmental standards for electronics production while also reducing costs. Within the research project ‘SmartEEs2’, funded by Horizon 2020, InnovationLab and its partner, ISRA, have developed a manufacturing process for copper-based solderable circuits. The circuits are screen printed and are compatible with conventional reflow processes.
Producing printed electronics is an additive process that does not use toxic etchants, and runs at comparatively low temperatures of around 150ºC, significantly reducing energy consumption. Moreover, the substrates used in additive PCB manufacturing are up to 15 times thinner, compared to conventional techniques, which reduces material consumption – and produces less waste.
InnovationLab has so far produced a physical prototype, which includes all the important blocks of a smart label, using copper ink to ensure high conductivity. Component mounting can be done in a conventional reflow soldering process, which enables manufacturers to switch to the new technology without investment in new equipment.
Multilayer printing, metal and dielectric, was used to produce the target functionality: a low power temperature sensor and logger, an NFC communication interface via a printed antenna, and a compact battery that is charged from a printed solar cell – making the device completely self-sufficient. The new process can produce both standard and flexible printed circuit boards with up to four layers and can be used in product and process development for hybrid electronics.
“This is a state-of-the-art production process, which will decrease costs and reduce logistical dependencies on suppliers while delivering three key benefits for the environment: consuming fewer materials, using less energy, and producing less waste. By the end of this year, we expect to have scaled this process to high volumes, meeting customer demands of a million solderable tracks or more,” said Dr. Janusz Schinke, Head of Printed Electronics at InnovationLab.
SmartEEs2 is a European project, which is funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program. Its objective is to provide acceleration support to innovative companies for the integration of flexible and wearable electronics technologies, and thus help European industry’s competitiveness.