Printed circuit boards are an essential part of all electronic devices, since it's they that hold all the hardware together. Unfortunately, with their use so prevalent, it means that a lot of time and effort has to go into their manufacture.
The design phase is one thing, but producing them, even in bulk, needs the attention of people, especially during the prototype stage.
For mass production, even with automated assembly lines, it can take a while for a PCB to be ready. When prototyping though, most things have to be done by the inventors / engineers themselves.
A company by the name of Camtek claims to have developed a solution to these drawbacks: a 3D printer capable of producing those PCBs on its own.
Meet the Camtek Gryphon inkjet 3D printer
Inkjet printing isn't a technique you're likely to find often on the additive manufacturing market, but it's one that offers a mostly unrivaled precision and layer thinness.
It also allows for the use of materials that an SLS (selective laser sintering) and SLA (stereolithography) printer can't handle.
Gryphon uses a direct deposition process to apply solder mask to circuit boards, only where it is needed. This is very important because PCBs are so complex now that any failure in deposition can render the PCB useless.
It's already hard and expensive enough to get a hold of all the individual components. Wasting them by improperly applying the multi-layer sides, plated thru-holes and fire retardant insulators, not to mention the multiple layers of copper conductors, isn't something anyone looks forward to.
And yet, it happens for every new product, repeatedly, which is why Gryphon is so remarkable: it eliminates failure. At least that's what Camtek claims.
Eliminating waste of product also saves a lot of money, which is always a plus. And you don't have to worry about the new technique producing brittle products: all PCBs should stay intact despite the less stressful and straightforward production process.
All this thanks to a contraption that uses fewer utilities, fewer funds and less space than conventional machinery, all the while requiring a single operator.
Availability and pricing
The Camtek Gryphon 3D printer hasn't been given a price, probably because the inkjet 3D printer is still in its testing stages. But it's just as well, since Camtek already has all the largest PCB manufacturers in the world as its customers, so it won't have trouble letting them all know what new options they'll have if they give the newcomer a try.