3D Printing for the Rapid Prototyping of Structural Electronics
In new product development, time to market (TTM) is critical for the success and profitability of next generation products. When these products include sophisticated electronics encased in 3D packaging with complex geometries and intricate detail, TTM can be compromised - resulting in lost opportunity. The use of advanced 3D printing technology enhanced with component placement and electrical interconnect deposition can provide electronic prototypes that now can be rapidly fabricated in comparable time frames as traditional 2D bread-boarded prototypes; however, these 3D prototypes include the advantage of being embedded within more appropriate shapes in order to authentically prototype products earlier in the development cycle. The fabrication freedom offered by 3D printing techniques, such as stereolithography and fused deposition modeling have recently been explored in the context of 3D electronics integration - referred to as 3D structural electronics or 3D printed electronics. Enhanced 3D printing may eventually be employed to manufacture end-use parts and thus offer unit-level customization with local manufacturing; however, until the materials and dimensional accuracies improve (an eventuality), 3D printing technologies can be employed to reduce development times by providing advanced geometrically appropriate electronic prototypes. This paper describes the development process used to design a novelty six-sided gaming die. The die includes a microprocessor and accelerometer, which together detect motion and upon halting, identify the top surface through gravity and illuminate light-emitting diodes for a striking effect. By applying 3D printing of structural electronics to expedite prototyping, the development cycle was reduced from weeks to hours.