The future of electronics is flexible and integrated circuits. It remains to be seen how those circuits and sensors will be mass produced but one thing is for sure: they will be prototyped on Nano Dimension’s New Dragonfly 2020 Pro 3D printer. I just visited the company’s HQ in Ness Ziona (next to Rehovot, in the heart of Israel’s “3D Printing Valley”) to see what they have been up to and to continue my quest for understanding exactly what electronic 3D printing is and could mean to the electronics industry. Seeing the latest integrated and flexible 3D printed circuitry that was 3D printed using the company newest Pro system got me just a little bit closer.
Nano Dimension is a unique company in the global 3D printing and electronics markets. This does not mean that its technology will certainly be successful in conquering the PCB prototyping market, but it sure does mean that the possibilities it offers are fascinating. If you think it’s hard to 3D print exact tolerances with powder bed, extrusion and even resin technologies just imagine how hard it is to 3D print circuits made of two completely different materials – a dielectric photopolymer and a conductive silver nanoparticle ink – with the precision necessary for that circuitry to work as planned.
The main element driving Nano Dimension’s quest for 3D printing electronic greatness is the amazing possibilities that this approach can offer, first for prototyping tomorrow’s circuits and, in the future – when copper nanoparticle inks will become available – for actual PCB mass production.
While the company is still very much in startup phase it has been building its sales and distribution network with some strong partners. These include over 15 beta partners, including California-based 3D printing experts Fathom.
“Our clients come primarily from two different segments: electronics and 3D printing,” says marketing manager Galit Beck, who has been my go-to person at Nano Dimension from the beginning. “Companies that work with electronics, both rapid prototyping services and distributors, need to become familiarized with the possibilities that 3D printing can offer them. Those who work as 3D printing services and distributors – like Fathom, for example – need to understand exactly how the electronics industry works and the applications it needs.”
The first big purely commercial client for Nano Dimension was Florida-based advanced manufacturing giant Jabil, who was also one of the first adopters of HP technology. However the enthusiasm and the level of interest at electronics shows is very high, Galit assures me. This makes sense as highly specific 3D printer manufacturers such as Nano Dimension – but also any dental 3D printer or jewelry 3D printer manufacturers – need to first consolidate their position in their reference vertical segment and then address the horizontal 3D printing market. Nano Dimension’s newest Dragonfly 2020 Pro system was the result of these close collaborations.
Nano Dimension’s newest Dragonfly 2020 Pro system was the result of the close collaboration with the beta partners, who asked for a larger system that could be progressively upgraded over time. Compared to the very first prints I saw in 2014, now the silver ink resolution is extremely high and the layers lines on the polymer ink are virtually invisible. It’s not just a matter of quality but also ideas.
Nano D’s engineers have just now started experimenting with fully integrated functional electronic products, such as an electronic thermometer, which is close to being fully functional right off the print bed. This feels like it could be the beginning of something huge. Nano Dimension now has official distributors in the US and in several European countries – including Italy – with some “less official” resellers in Asia.
“We are going through a very exciting and challenging time,” says Simon Fried, Co-Founder and Chief Business Officer (CBO) at Nano Dimension. “The company is publicly traded and is just now finally bringing the product to the market. It is a truly unique product, based on years of research and engineering, both in terms of technology and materials. There is a certain degree of uncertainty but the company has grown a lot and so has our technological know how.”
Compared to just a few offices on a single floor in 2014, Nano Dimension now has offices on three different floors, with the new nanoparticle ink material development lab situated on the bottom floor, R&D on the third floor and the main offices on the fourth. Altogether there are now over 100 employees and the company is getting ready to ship hundreds of systems in the years to come. It has no competitors and it is years ahead of any other company working on directly 3D printed PCB’s. Perhaps the biggest challenge it is facing now is getting potential adopters and the public, in general, to really understand what the machine is capable of and what it can be used for. Many first adopters, Galit tells me, have no intention of sharing their experience as they see it as a key competitive advantage.
These, however, are fairly common issues in many vertical segments for 3D printing and also for several other 3D printing technologies and materials. The only way to overcome them is to continue to raise awareness and that is exactly what we intend to do, through our Directory and websites. Can you imagine what you could do with a 3D printer that produces functional electronic devices? Send your ideas to email@example.com and we’ll forward them to our friends at Nano Dimension to find out if they could really be printed.