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3D Electronics 2020-2030: Technologies, Forecasts, Players

Molded interconnect devices, laser direct structuring, aerosol jet, laser induced forward transfer, film-insert molding, in-mold electronics, 3D printed electronics and more

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3D electronics is an emerging approach that enables electronics to be integrated within or onto the surface of objects. While it has long be used for adding antennas and simple conductive interconnects to the surface of 3D injection-molded plastic objects, more complex circuits are increasingly being added onto surfaces made from a variety of material by utilizing new techniques. Furthermore, in-mold electronics and 3D printed electronics enable complete circuits to be integrated within an object, offering multiple benefits that include simplified manufacturing and novel form factors. With 3D electronics, adding electronic functionality no longer requires incorporating a rigid, planar PCB into an object then wiring up the relevant switches, sensors, power sources and other external components.
This report from IDTechEx provides an extensive overview of all approaches to 3D electronics, informed by interviews with major players in each field. The pros and cons of each approach are weighed against each other for different applications, with numerous case studies showing how the different manufacturing techniques are deployed across the automotive, consumer goods and medical device sectors. Furthermore, through detailed analysis of the technologies and their requirements we identify innovation opportunities for both materials and manufacturing methods. All the approaches and technologies analyzed in this report are shown below on a roadmap that shows their progress from concept to commercialization for different applications.
Figure 1: The status of different 3D electronics technologies for different applications, from concept to commercialization. For more details please see the IDTechEx Report 3D Electronics 2020-2030.
Electronics applied to a circuit surface
The best-established approach to adding electrical functionality onto the surface of 3D objects is laser direct structuring (LDS), in which an additive in the injection molded plastic is selectively activated by a laser. This forms a pattern that is subsequently metallized using electroless plating. LDS saw tremendous growth around a decade ago, and is used to manufacture 100s of millions of devices each year, around 75% of which are antennas.
However, despite its high patterning speed and widespread adoption, LDS has some weaknesses that leave space for alternative approaches to surface metallization. Firstly, it is a two-step process that can require sending parts elsewhere for plating, thus risking IP exposure. It has a minimum resolution in mass production of around 75 um, thus limiting the line density, and can only be employed on molded plastic. Most importantly, LDS only enables a single layer of metallization, thus precluding cross-overs and hence substantially restricting circuit complexity.
Given these limitations, other approaches to applying conductive traces to the surfaces of 3D objects are gaining ground. Extruding conductive paste, a viscous suspension comprising multiple conductive flakes, is already used for a small proportion of antennas, and is the approach of choice for systems that deposit entire circuits onto 3D surfaces.
Aerosol jetting is another emerging metallization approach, in which a relatively low viscosity, usually conductive ink is atomised. This spray is then combined with an inert carrier gas and ejected from a nozzle. Aerosol jet has two notable advantages: it is capable of resolutions as fine as 10 um, and the nozzle can be placed a few mm away from the surface thus facilitating patterning of 3D surfaces with complex surface geometries. The downsides are the cost of the complex atomisation and delivery process, and the requirement to re-optimize the process for different inks.
An advantage of digital deposition methods of the incumbent LDS technology is that dielectric materials can also be deposited within the same printing system, thereby enabling cross-overs and hence much more complex circuits. Insulating and conductive adhesives can also deposited, enabling SMD components to be mounted onto the surface.
In-mold electronics
In mold electronics (IME) offers a commercially compelling proposition of integrating electronics into injection molded parts, reducing manufacturing complexity, lowering weight and enabling new form factors since rigid PCBs are no longer required. Furthermore, it relies on existing manufacturing techniques such as in-mold decoration and thermoforming, reducing the barriers to adoption. The basic principle is that a circuit is printed onto a thermoformable substrate, and SMD components mounted using conductive adhesives. The substrate is then thermoformed to the desired shape, and infilled with injection molded plastic. IME is especially well suited to human machine interfaces (HMIs) in both automotive interiors and the control panels of white goods, since decorative films can be used on the outer surface above capacitive touch sensors.
While IME is likely to dominate HMI interfaces in the future due to the ease of manufacture and compatibility with established manufacturing techniques, it does bring technical challenges. Chief among these is developing conductive and dielectric materials that can withstand the temperature of the thermoforming process along with the heat and pressure of injection molding. As such, materials suppliers are developing portfolios of materials aimed at IME, with conductive inks that can be deformed without cracking. Additional challenges include the development of electronic design software that can account for bending on circuits, and developing SMD component attachment methods that are reliable under the molding process.
Fully printed 3D electronics
The least developed technology is fully 3D printed electronics, in which dielectric materials (usually thermoplastics) and conductive materials are sequentially deposited. Combined with placed SMD components, this results in a circuit, potentially with a complex multilayer structure embedded in a 3D plastic object. The core value proposition is that each object and embedded circuit can be manufactured to a different design without the expense of manufacturing masks and molds each time.
Fully 3D printed electronics are thus well suited to applications where wide range of components need to be manufactured at short notice. Indeed, the US Army are currently trialling a ruggedized 3D printer to make replacement components in forward operating bases. The technology is also promising for applications where a customized shape and even functionality is important, for example medical devices such as hearing aids and prosthetics. The ability of 3D printed electronics to manufacture different components using the same equipment, and the associated decoupling of unit cost and volume, could also enable a transition to on-demand manufacturing, in which objects with electronic functionality are manufactured in response to specific customer requests (and possibly with bespoke features).
The challenges for fully 3D printed electronics are that manufacturing is fundamentally a much slower process than making parts via injection molding since each layer needs to be deposited sequentially. While the printing process can be accelerated using multiple nozzles, it is best targeted at applications where the customizability offers a tangible advantage. Ensuring reliability is also a challenge since with embedded electronics post-hoc repairs are impossible - one strategy is using image analysis to check each layer and perform any repairs before the next layer is deposited.
Comprehensive analysis and market forecasts
Our report discusses each approach to 3D electronics in considerable detail, evaluating the different technologies, their potential adoption barriers and their applicability to the different application areas. The report includes multiple company profiles based on interviews with major players across the different technologies. We also develop 10-year market forecasts for each technology and application sector, delineated by both revenue and area. We forecast the gradual decline of LDS and growth in extruded paste for consumer electronic antennas, and increased use of extrusion and aerosol especially for automotive applications. The most substantial growth is predicted for IME, which we predict will be widely adopted in car interiors and the control panels of white goods.
Figure 2: Forecast revenue for various categories of 3D printed electronics (LIFT, aerosol, LDS, two-shot molding and extruded paste are all methods for adding electronics to 3D surfaces). For more details please see the IDTechEx Report 3D Electronics 2020-2030.
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Table of Contents
1.1.Long term vision for 3D electronics
1.2.Readiness level of 3D electronics technologies and applications
1.3.Metallization and materials for each 3D electronics methodology
1.4.Comparison of metallization methods (aerosol, inkjet, extruded conductive paste, laser direct structuring, print-then-plate, two-shot molding, laser induced forward transfer, electrohydrodynamic printing)
1.5.SWOT Analysis: Electronics onto 3D surfaces
1.6.Summary: Electronics onto 3D surfaces
1.7.SWOT analysis: In-mold electronics (IME)
1.8.In-mold electronics: Summary
1.9.SWOT analysis: 3D printed electronics
1.10.Summary: 3D printed electronics
1.11.10-year forecast by revenue for different types of 3D electronics
1.12.10-year forecast by area (sqm) for electronics on 3D surface. (Categories: LDS, extruded paste, aerosol, two-shot molding, LIFT)
1.13.10-year forecast by revenue for electronics on 3D surface. (Categories: LDS, extruded paste, aerosol, two-shot molding, LIFT)
2.1.Overview of the electronics market
2.2.What are molded interconnect devices (MIDs)
2.3.3D electronics manufacturing method flowchart
2.4.IME: 3D friendly process for circuit making
2.5.Motivation for 3D electronics
2.6.Advantages of 3D electronics vs conventional PCBs
2.7.Comparing the production speed of approaches to 3D electronics
2.8.3D electronics requires special electronic design software
2.9.Readiness level of 3D electronics technologies and applications
2.10.2D printed electronics (on surface)
2.11.Printed Electronics: Commercial failures
2.12.Printed Electronics: Commercial successes
2.13.Benchmarking competitive processes to 3D electronics
3.1.Traditional PCBs: History
3.2.Traditional PCBs: Mounting components
3.3.Traditional PCBs: Layers
3.4.Traditional PCBs: Complexity
3.5.Traditional PCBs: Geography
3.6.Traditional PCBs: Prototyping
3.7.Traditional PCBs: Mechanics
3.8.Traditional PCBs: Heat
3.9.SWOT analysis: Traditional PCBs
4.1.1.Applying electronics to 3D surfaces (including molded interconnect devices)
4.1.2.MID challenges for LED integration
4.2.Electronics onto 3D surfaces: Metallization methods
4.2.1.Metallization methods.
4.2.2.Comparing selective metallization methods
4.2.3.Comparison of metallization methods (aerosol, inkjet, extruded conductive paste, laser direct structuring, print-then-plate, two-shot molding, laser induced forward transfer, electrohydrodynamic printing)
4.3.Aerosol printing
4.3.1.Aerosol deposition
4.3.2.Aerosol deposition onto 3D surfaces
4.3.3.Aerosol deposition vs LDS (laser direct structuring)
4.3.4.Applications of aerosol beyond antennas
4.3.5.Varying line width to control resistance.
4.3.6.Example aerosol jet printed functionality
4.3.7.Aerosol jet in R&D
4.3.8.Academic Research: Aerosol jet printed transistors
4.3.9.Academic research: Aerosol jet printing for the fabrication of terahertz metamaterials
4.3.10.Case study: Aerosol deposition of mobile phone antennas
4.3.11.Aerosol jet printing: SWOT
4.3.12.Company profile: Optomec
4.3.13.SWOT Analysis: Optomec
4.3.14.Company Profile: Integrated Deposition Solutions
4.3.15.SWOT Analysis: Integrated Deposition Solutions
4.4.Laser direct structuring
4.4.1.Laser direct structuring (LDS)
4.4.2.Laser direct structuring has many applications
4.4.3.Using LDS to make a bionic ant (LPKF, Festo)
4.4.4.Capabilities of laser direct structuring
4.4.5.Laser roughing to enhance adhesion
4.4.6.Galvanic rather than electroless plating
4.4.7.LDS: Fine pitch capability
4.4.8.LDS application examples: Insulin pump
4.4.9.LDS for IC packaging through-hole vias
4.4.10.Mass manufacturing the all-plastic-substrate paint?
4.4.11.Combining 3D printing with LDS for prototyping?
4.4.12.Expanding LDS MID to non-plastic substrates?
4.4.13.LDS MID 3D LED retrofit
4.4.14.LDS MID in LED with improved heat dissipation
4.4.15.LDS MID in sensors
4.4.16.LDS manufacturers authorised by LPKF
4.4.17.LDS MID application examples: Insulin pump and diagnostic laser pen
4.4.18.Laser direct structuring: SWOT
4.4.19.Company Profile: LPKF
4.4.20.SWOT analysis: LPKF
4.5.Inkjet printing
4.5.1.Inkjet printing conductive traces: Commercial and hobbyist
4.5.2.Inkjet onto 3D surfaces (Nano Dimension)
4.5.3.SWOT analysis: Inkjet printing electronics
4.5.4.SWOT analysis: Ceradrop
4.6.Extruded conductive paste
4.6.1.Extruding conductive paste for structurally-integrated antennas
4.6.2.Details of extruded paste printing.
4.6.3.Extruded conductive paste examples
4.6.4.SWOT Analysis: Extruded paste
4.6.5.Extrude molten solder
4.6.6.SWOT Analysis: Extrude molten solder
4.6.7.SWOT Analysis: Pulse Electronics (Fluidant)
4.7.Two-shot molding
4.7.1.Two shot molding: Process description
4.7.2.Comparing LDS and two-shot molding
4.7.3.SWOT analysis: Two-shot molding
4.8.Laser induced forward transfer
4.8.1.Laser induced forward transfer (LIFT)
4.8.2.How paste viscosity influences LIFT
4.8.3.SWOT analysis: Laser induced forward transfer
4.9.Electronics onto 3D surfaces: Materials
4.9.1.Material considerations for LDS
4.9.2.Ink requirements for aerosol printing
4.9.3.Beyond IME conductive inks: Adhesives
4.9.4.Conductive adhesives: General requirements and challenges
4.9.5.Different types of conductive adhesives
4.9.6.Conductive adhesives: Surviving the IME process
4.9.7.Attaching components to low temperature substrates
4.9.8.AlphaAssembly: Low temperature solder
4.9.9.Low temperature solder alloys
4.9.10.Low temperature soldering
4.9.11.Conductive paste bumping on flexible substrates
4.9.12.Ag pasted for die attachment
4.9.13.Safi-Tech: Ambient soldering with core-shell nanoparticles
4.9.14.Photonic soldering: A step up from sintering
4.9.15.Photonic soldering: Prospects and challenges
4.9.16.Photonic soldering: Substrate dependence.
4.9.17.Electrically conductive adhesives
4.9.18.Multilayer circuits: need for cross-overs in IME devices
4.9.19.Cross-over dielectric: Requirements
4.9.20.Cross-over dielectric: Flexibility tests
4.10.Electronics on 3D surfaces: Applications
4.10.1.Automotive applications of 3D electronics in development
4.10.2.LDS MID application examples: Automotive HMI
4.10.3.LDS MID application examples: Automotive HMI
4.10.4.LDS MID in LED implementation
4.10.5.MID application examples: Antenna
4.10.6.Applications of aerosol deposition
4.10.7.Conformal printing examples: Harvard University, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, Optomec
4.11.Electronics onto 3D surfaces: Equipment companies
4.11.1.Neotech AMT
4.11.2.Equipment from Neotech-AMT
4.11.3.SWOT analysis: Neotech-AMT
4.11.5.Ceradrop - printing ceramics
4.11.6.SWOT analysis: Ceradrop
4.12.Electronics onto 3D surfaces: Summary
4.12.1.SWOT Analysis: Electronics onto 3D surfaces
4.12.2.Summary: Electronics onto 3D surfaces
5.1.1.What is in-mold electronics (IME)?
5.1.2.Advantages of IME
5.1.3.Challenges for IME
5.1.4.Overview of key players across the supply chain
5.1.5.Examples of true structural electronics: Plastic Electronic, Smart Plastics Network
5.1.6.IME market forecast - application
5.1.7.IME surfaces and capabilities
5.1.8.Integrating IME into existing systems
5.2.In-mold electronics: Technologies and manufacturing methods
5.2.1.What is the in-mold electronic process?
5.2.2.In-mold electronics manufacturing - TactoTek
5.2.3.SMD assembly: before or after forming?
5.2.4.IME production: Required equipment set
5.2.5.In-mold decoration (IMD) production: Required equipment set
5.2.6.Processing conditions: Traditional electronics vs. IME
5.2.7.IME products have exceptional environmental tolerance
5.2.8.Aircraft aerofoil flap with integral heater for de-icing using in-mold electronics
5.2.9.IME requirements
5.2.10.Observations on the IME design process
5.2.11.Transfer printing: printing test strips & using lamination to compete with IME
5.2.12.PolyIC: inserting complex patterned functional films into 3D shaped parts
5.2.13.IME with functional films made with evaporated lines
5.2.14.Print-then-plate: Overview (Elephantech)
5.2.15.Print-then-plate: Advantages
5.2.16.Print-then-plate for in-mold electronics
5.2.17.SWOT analysis: Elephantech
5.2.18.Increasing number of research prototypes
5.2.19.Extending IME: Thermoformed polymeric actuator?
5.2.20.Thermoformed 3D shaped reflective LCD display
5.2.21.Thermoformed 3D shaped RGB AMOLED with LTPS
5.2.22.Molding electronics in 3D shaped composites
5.3.In-mold electronics: Materials
5.3.1.Stretchable carbon nanotube transparent conducting films
5.3.2.Prototype examples of carbon nanotube in-mold transparent conductive films touch using carbon nanobuds
5.3.4.In-mold and stretchable metal mesh transparent conductive films
5.3.5.Other IME transparent conductive film technologies
5.3.6.Prototype examples of in-mold and stretchable PEDOT:PSS transparent conductive films
5.3.7.CNBs: Insert film molding for 3D-shaped sensor transparent heaters
5.3.8.Benchmarking CNT 3D-shaped molded transparent heaters
5.3.9.Ultra fine metal mesh as transparent heater
5.3.10.Technology roadmap of ultra-fine metal mesh as transparent heater
5.3.11.Feature control capability of ultra fine metal mesh as transparent heater
5.3.12.IME: Value transfer from PCB board to ink
5.3.13.New ink requirements: Thermoformability
5.3.14.Evolution and improvements in performance of stretchable conductive inks
5.3.15.Performance of stretchable conductive inks
5.3.16.Bridging the conductivity gap between printed electronics and IME inks
5.3.17.The role of particle size in stretchable inks
5.3.18.Elantas: Selecting right fillers and binders to improve stretchability
5.3.19.E2IP Technologies/GGI Solutions: Particle-free IME inks
5.3.20.The role of resin in stretchable inks
5.3.21.New ink requirements: portfolio approach
5.3.22.IME materials: A portfolio approach
5.3.23.All materials in the stack must be compatible: Conductivity perspective
5.3.24.All materials in the stack must be compatible: Forming perspective
5.3.25.New ink requirements: Surviving heat stress
5.3.26.New ink requirements: stability
5.3.27.All materials in the stack must be reliable
5.3.28.The need for formable conductive adhesives
5.3.29.Stretchable conductive ink suppliers multiply
5.3.30.IME conductive ink suppliers multiply
5.3.31.Bendable conductive strips
5.3.32.IME with functional films made with evaporated lines
5.3.33.One-film vs Two-film approach
5.3.34.Different molding materials and conditions
5.3.35.Special PET as alternative to common PC?
5.3.36.Can TPU also be a substrate?
5.4.In-mold electronics: Applications
5.4.1.Is IME commercial yet?
5.4.2.Application areas for IME
5.4.3.Increasing number of IME research prototypes
5.5.In-mold electronics applications: Automotive
5.5.1.In-mold electronic application: Automotive
5.5.2.Addressable market in vehicle interiors in 2020 and 2025
5.5.3.Automotive: In-mold decoration product examples
5.5.4.HMI: Trend towards 3D touch surfaces
5.5.5.Case study: Ford and T-ink
5.5.6.First (ALMOST) IME success story: Overhead console in cars
5.5.7.Growing need for 3D shaped transparent heater in automotive
5.5.8.Automotive: direct heating of headlamp plastic covers
5.5.9.Automotive: Human machine interfaces
5.6.IME applications: White goods
5.6.1.White goods: human machine interfaces
5.6.2.White goods, medical and industrial control (HMI)
5.6.3.White goods: In-Mold Decoration product examples
5.6.4.IME for washing machine HMI (from Molex)
5.7.In-mold electronics applications: consumer electronics
5.7.1.Consumer electronics prototypes to products
5.7.2.Home automation with IME becomes commercial
5.7.3.Antennas with IME
5.7.4.Commercial products: Wearable technology
5.8.In-mold electronics: Companies
5.8.2.IME examples from TactoTek
5.8.3.TactoTek business model & market
5.8.4.Recent TactoTek projects
5.8.5.TactoTek capabilities
5.8.6.Faurecia concept: Prototype to test functionality
5.8.7.Faurecia concept: Traditional vs. IME design
5.8.8.SWOT analysis: TactoTek
5.8.9.Company profile: Plastic Electronic
5.8.10.SWOT analysis: Plastic Electronic
5.9.In-mold electronics: Summary
5.9.1.SWOT analysis: In-mold electronics (IME)
5.9.2.In-mold electronics: Summary
6.3D PRINTED ELECTRONICS printed electronics extends 3D printing
6.1.2.Fully 3D printed electronics
6.1.3.'Conventional' 3D printing printed electronics combines existing manufacturing technologies
6.1.5.Comparing 3D printed electronics with other applications
6.1.6.Approaches to 3D printed structural electronics
6.1.7.Extrude conductive filament for 3D printed electronics
6.1.8.Extruding molten solder for 3D printed electronics
6.1.9.Extrude sensing filament
6.1.10.Conductive plastics using graphene additives
6.1.11.Conductive plastics using carbon nanotube additives
6.1.12.Paste extrusion, dispensing or printing during 3D printing
6.1.13.Ink requirements for 3D printed electronics printed with embedded metallization
6.1.15.Routes to 3D printing of structural electronics printing of soft electronics (Harvard University) electronics with stereolithography (Nascent Objects)
6.1.18.Roadmap for 3D printed electronics
6.1.19.Lessons learned from 3D printing and printed electronics
6.2.3D printed electronics: Technologies
6.2.1.Comparing performance parameters of metallization and dielectric deposition methods
6.2.2.Increasing processing speed with parallelization Printer and conductive ink/paste/glue
6.2.4.University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP)
6.2.5.Cornell University
6.2.6.Technology strengths and weaknesses
6.3.3D printed electronics: Materials
6.3.1.Functional materials
6.3.3.Extrude conductive filament
6.3.4.SWOT analysis: Extrude conductive filament
6.3.5.Conductive thermoplastic filaments
6.3.6.Conductive inks
6.3.7.Ink requirements for 3D printed electronics
6.3.8.Conductive pastes
6.3.9.Conductive photopolymers
6.4.3D printed electronics: Applications
6.4.1.Applications of 3D printed electronics
6.4.2.Integrating electronics into 3D printed structures: Toyota, Japan
6.4.3.Low volume manufacturing
6.4.5.Ceramic capacitor
6.4.7.Ballistic rectifier
6.4.8.Customized medical devices
6.5.3D printed electronics: Companies
6.5.1.Novacentrix and nScrypt
6.5.2.Nano Dimension
6.5.3.Multi-layer printed PCB (NanoDimension)
6.5.4.Commercialization challenges for Nano Dimension
6.5.5.SWOT analysis: Nano Dimension
6.5.6.From 3D printed electronics to 3D printed shoes: Voxel8
6.5.7.Conductive thermoplastic: Functionalize (USA)
6.5.8.SWOT analysis: nScrypt
6.5.9.SWOT analysis: Voxel8
6.6.3D printed electronics: Novel business models printed electronics and economies of scale printed electronics enable on-demand manufacturing printed electronics enable distributed manufacturing
6.6.4.Advantages and disadvantages of distributed manufacturing
6.6.5.On-demand manufacturing: US Army and NASA use nScrypt printer.
6.6.6.Our view on 3D printed electronics and distribute on-demand manufacturing
6.7.3D printed electronics: Summary
6.7.1.SWOT analysis: 3D printed electronics printed electronics: Summary
7.1.3D electronics and flexible hybrid electronics (FHE)
7.2.FHE Examples: Combing conventional components with flexible/printed electronics on flexible substrates
7.3.Commonality with other electronics methodologies
7.4.Materials and technologies for FHE
7.5.FHE value chain: Many materials and technologies
8.1.Forecast Methodology
8.2.10-year forecast by revenue for different types of 3D electronics
8.3.IME market forecast - application
8.4.Ten-year in-mold-electronics market forecast by area
8.5.Estimate of value capture by different elements in an IME product
8.6.Ten-year IME value capture by plastic substrates and functional inks
8.7.Key observations from the MID market
8.8.10-year forecast by area (sqm) for electronics on 3D surface. (Categories: LDS, extruded paste, aerosol, two-shot molding, LIFT)
8.9.10-year forecast by revenue for electronics on 3D surface. (Categories: LDS, extruded paste, aerosol, two-shot molding, LIFT)
8.10.10-year forecast by area (sqm) for extruded conductive paste
8.11.10-year forecast by revenue for extruded conductive paste
8.12.10-year forecast by area for laser direct structuring (LDS)
8.13.10-year forecast by area for laser induced forward transfer (LIFT)
8.14.10-year forecast by revenue for laser induced forward transfer (LIFT)
8.15.10-year forecast by volume for fully 3D printed electronics (Categories: Fused deposition modelling, stereolithography)

Report Statistics

Slides 389
Forecasts to 2030
ISBN 9781913899028

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