When searching for interesting and novel applications of 3D printing, I came across this project, which was a finalist and runner up in the Instructables “Make it Real” Challenge this year. I found it amongst many other worthy projects.
The premise is that 3D printers could be used for creating circuit boards that are solder-free and contain no etching chemicals. The author of the project, CarryTheWhat, posted a cool instructable on how to make a 3D printed electronic circuit library using OpenSCAD, 3D-PCB.
Basically, he recreated the full replication process of a simple analogue circuit for a blinking LED — constructed of a few transistors, capacitors and resistors, a single LED and a AAA battery.
What was needed?
He developed the code base to be used with a MakerBor Replicator 3D printer. In addition to the basic electronic components, a conductive thread was needed and the most suitable was identified. Other useful equipment to have at hand include point tweezers and small scissors to aid wrapping and placing components.
The world is moving towards a time when the physical and digital worlds will be equally accessible and distributed manufacturing becomes more widespread. Whether the digital data is free or incurs a cost, there will always be a cost related to the manufacturing process through the cost of machinery and raw materials. The goal of this circuit board project was to increase the scope of what can be replicated on a commodity machine. The future might provide better solutions, but for now it is possible to print basic electronics using a plastic PCB and conductive thread.
To understand and/or construct your own circuit, visiting the project is highly recommended. If you are not ready for that yet, like me hopefully you can fully appreciate the vast potential that 3D printing brings and the exciting road we have before us as illustrated here.