May 6, 2016 | By Benedict
Xerox, the American business and technology corporation, is developing 3D printed circuit board technology for “smart devices” that can sense and interact with their environment. Janos Veres of Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), A Xerox Company, just gave an update on the company’s progress.
Despite having had a foothold in 3D printing technology for some years now, Xerox is, understandably, still most commonly associated with a more established printing machine: the photocopier. Since its inception in 1906, Xerox has slowly become one of the most well-known and trusted business service providers on the planet, pioneering a number of groundbreaking printing techniques and becoming a household name in the process.
Needles to say, Xerox creates much more than just photocopying equipment. The international corporation, headquartered in Norwalk, Connecticut, invented the computer mouse and the graphical user interface, and is now looking towards 3D printing to spark further revolutionary developments in the tech sphere. According to Janos Veres, Novel and Printed Electronics Program Lead at PARC, the Xerox Innovation Group is channeling its 3D printing expertise to create “smart devices”—new electronics which take full advantage of the design flexibility afforded by 3D printing. “Making a very complex part 3D printed is just as simple as making a cube—a simple geometric component,” Veres explained. “[All] it takes [is] pressing a button on the printer.”
In order to build a new generation of smart devices, Xerox is attempting to rewrite the rulebook, starting with an integral part of all electronic devices: the circuit board. The potential uses for advantages of 3D printed PCBs are a hot topic in the additive manufacturing world, with companies such as Nano Dimension and Voxel8 developing new and exciting techniques for creating PCBs, often 3D printing them directly inside a component. Xerox joined the 3D printed PCB party a few years back when it started developing flexible, electrically conductive plastic filaments for 3D circuits, and now believes that 3D printing can be used to create new kinds of circuit boards, with flexible shapes suited to the specific electronic component.
“Most electronics devices that you have today are built on a board, which is rigid,” Veres said. “Once we’ve made that board, we put it in a box. Every single electronics piece looks like that! It doesn’t make sense. We should be able to make electronics to shape that we dream of, so that designers will be able to come up with new configurations of electronics that have intricate shapes, and place the sensors where they belong—not necessarily being constrained by ‘what kind of shape and size can I have for that box?’”
With 3D printing, Xerox is able to create 3D circuitry within a 3D printed object as it is being manufactured, with sensors, actuators, coils, and such embedded directly into the device. This means that objects can be designed without having to accommodate traditional rigid circuit boards or unnecessary assembly of several parts. Best of all, this technology can be applied to an incredibly diverse range of devices, enabling 3D printing to take a foothold at the core of Xerox product development. The company is even developing materials which have been precisely engineered to suit the 3D printing process, with their viscosity, temperature resistance, and adhesion all optimized for additive manufacturing.
“At Xerox Innovation Group, we [want 3D] printing to become a production technique for creating smart devices,” Veres explained. “Whether it’s a phone, a computer, smart labels, wearables, components in automotive or aerospace, customized sensors, or batteries, 3D printing has the potential to achieve that very exciting goal of being able to produce basically anything of any complexity.”
After conceding 2015 as a “year of transition”, with financial results “mixed in an increasingly challenging market environment”, Xerox separated into two separate companies in early 2016. If Veres’ comments are to be believed, 3D printing could yet form an important part of the company’s future strategy. “There are incredible opportunities for [3D] printing,” Veres commented. “They truly open an entirely new field, and make production ‘on demand’ and local instead of being the privilege of large factories—that’s the power of printing.”
Posted in 3D Printing Application
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