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3D Printing Progress
Posted on October 17, 2017

Spotlight on BotFactory

BotFactory has a vision to revolutionize the electronics industry by bringing the factory to the desktop, creating a world where engineers, researchers and students can prototype printed electronics right there and then. BotFactory SV2 is their latest generation, capable of printing multilayer circuits, dispensing paste and pick-and-placing components within a small, 50 x 50 cm footprint.
 
BotFactory fabricates and assembles Printed Circuit Boards in a way radically different from the familiar, stencil-and-etch methods. The conductive traces are printed using a conductive, nano-particle silver ink onto a substrate (FR-4 or even flexible Kapton), and then a polymer ink is printed over the traces. Vias are printed using an additive process from the bottom to the top of the board. As CTO and Founder Carlos Ospina explains, "People always ask us 'how can you create a Multilayer circuit without drilling?!', but at BotFactory we know that drilling is just one of many possible ways to connect a top layer to a bottom one".
 
Each BotFactory SV2 comes with three heads to perform the printing, dispensing and assembly process. After printing the traces, the printing head is swapped out for the dispensing head and conductive glue deposited onto the pads. The final step is assembly where a Pick-and-place head equipped with a vacuum pump picks up parts from a tape-strip holder and use an upwards-facing camera to align the part and place it in the correct spot.
 
BotFactory took many lessons from their first product, Squink, and integrated them into SV2. The primary focus was on the printing technology, leveraging new inkjetting methods and curing techniques to print finer conductive traces, thinner insulating ink layers and overall speed. SV2 will be able to print more than 2 layers with an estimated trace width of 200 microns. Of course, with thinner lines comes finer dispensing, which required a major change to dispensing along with the conductive glues utilized; SV2 will now include a one-part epoxy instead of a two-part as with Squink. Pick-and-place supports 10 times more parts, along with tape-strippackaging and 0402-sized components, allowing users to explore small-batch production from within their workshop.
 
It is an accepted fact that the value of an industrial product is measured how much time and money is saved for the business. Prototyping electronic devices is an expensive endeavor for every business, from the startup stage to a Fortune 500, or from a High school to an Ivy league college. 5 Billion USD was spent on prototyping just the bare circuit boards, in a 450 billion worldwide market for electronics fabrication and assembly. For our own development of Squink, tens of thousands was spent on various PCB fabrication rounds. The typical board round can take as long as two weeks to arrive into an engineer's hands. Those two weeks could have greatly improved the time-to-market. Some companies can afford to pay for 24 hour turnarounds - Carlos recalled meeting one R&D manager at major Fortune 500 companies who spent $40,000 on a round of boards that he needed the next day. There are other methods of fabricating circuits: small pick-and-place devices, CNC milling and laser-cut stencils, but they are separate methods, sitting on their individual silos.
 
BotFactory offer is an integration of a number of traditional and new technologies that are, as a sum, greater than each constitute part. New developments of nanotechnology and conductive nanoparticle inks has provided an alternative to CNC milling and etching of boards - by using existing and inexpensive thermal inkjetting methods, and leveraging new functional inks we can print multi-layered boards on a multiplicity of materials like FR4, acrylic and kapton.
 
Integration of dispensing and pick-and-place techniques to BotFactory's inkjet printing methods is very popular amongst their customers, as they appreciate the smoother workflow between each step. It is a cost saver, pooling several capital investments into one functional product. Like the integrated chip, there is space savings that allows for miniaturization of these previously discrete processes. BotFactory believes that their new SV2 can democratize electronics and printed electronics manufacturing and make it more accessible to a whole cadre of engineers and educators, accelerating innovation and learning at a level unseen before.
 
Botfactory will be at the IDTechEx Show! in Santa Clara, USA, exhibiting at booth R18. Come by to see BotFactory SV2 in action, talk to our engineers and see if you can be the first to get one when it ships in December 2017.