Nano Dimension, which has developed a 3D printer capable of producing printed circuit boards and other electronic components, is now targeting the low volume manufacturing market with its latest model, the DragonFly LDM.
The LDM, which stands for Lights-out Digital Manufacturing, builds on the existing DragonFly Pro model, which was mainly designed for prototyping. As such, this marks a significant step forward for Nano Dimension.
Amit Dror, CEO of Nano Dimension, says that the new model offers both higher volume and better quality printing with less human intervention. Essentially Nano Dimension has automated more of the maintenance regimes to allow the printer to run 24:7 without an operator. This includes a new automated washing subsystem that keeps the inkjet printheads clean. Dror says: “We have added sensors that monitor in real time the temperature and humidity inside and outside the printer that helps the printer determine how to operate.” The sensors are combined with new software algorithms.
The LDM also gains a new subsystem for setting the heights of the heads relative to the printing area, which is critical to its performance due to the dual printing system. The DragonFly has an even more complicated printing process than most 3D printers because it has to simultaneously lay down both a silver conductive ink and a polymer-based dielectric to create the PCBs, which in turn means that the head heights have to be set very precisely – “beyond the micron level” according to Dror. With the Pro this can take several hours a week but the LDM is more efficient as Dror explains: “We have created a new algorithm that measures the heights in real time which saves a few hours per week.”
The net result is that the maintainence has been reduced to a few hours, once per week, greatly improving productivity. Dror stresses that the improvements are aimed at increasing the unattended operating time and the repeatability, which are the key to manufacturing.
The new DragonFly machine is based on the existing Pro model so it has the same build volume and Dror notes that many of the applications are for relatively small components and that many different components can be printed together to fill the available bed. The typical applications include multilayer Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs), antennas, capacitors and sensors.
Dror points out that 3D-printing these parts allows them to be miniaturized. As such, Nano Dimension is uniquely positioned to help with the development of Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things. Most of the current users seem to come from the aerospace and defence industries but there are also obvious benefits for automotive, medical devices and consumer electronics.
The LDM has already been trialled by the German company Hensoldt, in a collaboration that I’ve covered here. Hensoldt has also helped by generating reference circuits to outline the advantages of the new LDM system. This shows that the LDM system achieves more than 40% higher printing time.
Andreas Salomon, Hensoldt’s project leader for 3D printed electronics, explained: “The DragonFly LDM is a necessary evolutionary setup up from the DragonFly Pro, enabling low-volume manufacturing of electronic circuits fast and easy to do in-house, with minimal operator time. It will be a great addition for Hensoldt, enabling us to develop innovative applications faster and with far better machine availability and lower maintenance than ever before.”
The new LDM model is available now and the existing Pro machines can be upgraded to the new specification. You can find more information on the DragonFly range at www.nano-di.com.