Lite-On Integrates 3D Printing of Electronics into Mass Production
Michael Molitch-Hou posted on April 08, 2016 |

The 3D printing of individual components has developed at a rapid rate, but the end game for the technology is not just the additive manufacturing of end parts for use in our everyday lives but the 3D printing of functional objects. That can only be accomplished when the technology is sufficiently evolved to 3D print more than just plastic and metal parts and we see the widespread implementation of 3D printing dynamic materials, such as electronics.

Optomec, based out of Albuquerque, N.M., is one of the few companies with a platform capable of 3D printing electronics through the use of their proprietary Aerosol Jet technology, and one of their customers, Lite-On Mobile Mechanical SBG, has just announced the use of this unique printing process in the mass manufacturing of end parts.

The Aerosol Jet 5X system is capable of 3D printing a variety of nanomaterials onto flat and 3D objects. (Image courtesy of Optomec/YouTube.)
The Aerosol Jet 5X system is capable of 3D printing a variety of nanomaterials onto flat and 3D objects. (Image courtesy of Optomec/YouTube.)

With five-axis motion, the Aerosol Jet 5X system is specially engineered to spray nanomaterials, including conductive inks, dielectrics, plastics and adhesives, onto a given substrate, which can be flat or nonplanar. The combination of the fine level of detail of the spray (about 10 microns) with the five-axis motion allows for very thin circuitry onto potentially complex-shaped objects. Because the system has an open architecture that is somewhat customizable for the customer, it can be tailored for a given application. In the case of Lite-On, all of this adds up to 3D printing antennas and other electronics onto a variety of devices.

The story of Lite-On’s adoption of Optomec technology for mass production is similar to many companies that adopt 3D printing in-house. The Taiwanese company began using their Aerosol Jet systems for prototyping purposes, creating communication, personal care and automotive products for their original equipment manufacturing customers. After seeing the power of 3D printing for prototyping, they understood that it could be used for mass manufacturing, developing a process they call 3D Direct Print (3DP).

The Aerosol Jet 5X configured to host multiple platforms for 3D printing electronics onto multiple electronic devices.(Image courtesy of Optomec.)
The Aerosol Jet 5X configured to host multiple platforms for 3D printing electronics onto multiple electronic devices.(Image courtesy of Optomec.)

They now have a number of production systems running 24/7 in Guangzhou, China, where they 3D print electronics onto millions of consumer electronics. Their production operation has configured the machines so that a series of Aerosol Jet print modules are used across more than one five-axis motion platform where smartphone and tablet form-factors are sprayed with electronic materials.According to a recent news release, it is estimated that the company can perform this process on millions of products per year. Without the need for plating or specialty resins, they’ve seen a drop in costs and a more streamlined logistical process.

Henrik Johansson, senior manager of technology development antennas at Lite-On, elaborated on their use of the technology: “With the flexibility provided by Aerosol Jet technology, our 3DP systems can print sensors, antennas and other functional electronics onto plastic components and covers, as well as metal die-cast insert-molded polymer frames, and even onto glass panels and ceramic materials. We see Aerosol Jet as a strategic component of our 3DP solution, which has enabled us to expand into new markets.”

Optomec’s technology is one of a kind, as is Lite-On’s use of it for mass production. As these systems are implemented at a wider scale, we may make some small steps closer to reaching the dream of, one day, 3D printing fully functional objects that work right off of the print bed.


About the Author





Michael Molitch-Hou is a 3D printing specialist and the founder of The Reality™ Institute, a service institute dedicated to determining what’s real and what’s not so that you don’t have to. He is a graduate of the MFA critical studies and writing program at CalArts, and a firm advocate of world peace.

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