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When to Use ESD-Safe 3D Printing

Written by Senior Application Engineer Benjamin MacDonald

ESD-safe 3D printing materials that boast high temperature, high resolution, and scalability are hard to come by. While there are some extrusion-based options available, these often don’t meet the requirements for production applications as the throughput is low and surface finish is poor. Fortify’s recent announcement of our ESD-HT (high temperature) material allows for the mechanical and electrostatic discharge properties required with all the added benefits of a DLP powered system.

Two key properties of ESD-HT, Fortify’s ESD-safe 3D printing material is its HDT of 284C and its stiffness of 5.3GPa.

Combining these materials properties with the ease of manufacturing that FLUX Series printers enable, there are a range of exciting applications where 3D printing can help electronics manufacturers save time and money.

In this blog we will explore some of the applications for ESD-Safe 3D printing including: solder reflow trays, SMT pick and place nozzles, PCB quality testing, and magnetic data storage Protection. Below we dive into these applications and why Fortify’s ESD-HT is uniquely suited for success.

Solder Reflow Trays

What it is:

Solder reflow is a specific soldering process used mainly for surface mount components. It is an efficient way to quickly solder a large quantity of components to a circuit board and the process can be fully automated. At a high level the process can be broken down into three main steps; laying solder paste, placing components, and the reflow process. Out of the three discrete steps, the most environmentally challenging step by far is the actual reflow process. The reflow process consists of heating the PCB’s to temperatures of up to 250C+ in order to melt the solder paste and join the component to the board. This is done in a reflow oven where boards are exposed to these temperatures for significant periods of time. One key area of concern during this process is ESD safety. Temperature change is a very easy way to generate a static charge and as a result it is highly important to ensure that PCB’s are properly protected.

Challenges with traditional manufacturing:

Today these reflow trays are typically machined out of a few different materials that are all able to withstand the temperature requirements of a reflow oven while remaining dissipative. While these materials are able to function well, they are very difficult to machine and stock material is expensive. Being specialty materials, it can be difficult to find someone to reliably machine them and lead times typically are a number of weeks. All of this effort goes towards a manufacturing aid that ultimately is useless when the production of a given product is complete.

Solution with ESD-Safe 3D printing

This application was practically made for Fortify’s ESD-HT; a material that maintains its rigidity up to 284C while avoiding all of the typical pitfalls associated with traditional manufacturing. Leveraging a Flux Series printer, users are able to print these reflow trays in a matter of hours rather than weeks meaning that PCB’s can go into production significantly faster. Due to its dissipative resistivity, PCB manufacturers have the peace of mind that their boards won’t be damaged during the reflow process.

SMT Pick & Place Nozzles

What it is:

Surface Mount Technology or SMT is a process that places electrical components onto a PCB prior to that PCB entering a reflow oven. SMT is an automated process that compared to manual component placement processes enables more precision for the components location and a much higher packing density of components. This means that boards can get smaller while still holding the same number of components. On top of this, SMT is an extremely fast process allowing for thousands of components to be placed every hour. The process is a vacuum based process that pulls a vacuum through a nozzle to pick up components and releases the vacuum when the component is in place. SMT is a very popular method for PCB production due to its speed, accuracy, and efficiency.

Challenges with traditional manufacturing:

Today these nozzles are mainly manufactured out of steel and outfitted with ESD safe tips which is great for durability but not ideal for ease of manufacturing. Since these tips have to pull a vacuum, manufacturers need to machine in a vacuum channel. The components that these nozzles need to pick up are typically very small meaning that these channels also need to be very small. This leads to a common challenge in the machining world, accurately drilling small diameter holes. These drill bits are very prone to breaking and if they don’t break keeping a hole straight is a whole other challenge.

Solution with ESD-Safe 3D printing:

The easiest way to drill these holes is to simply not drill them at all. With ESD-HT users can just print these tiny holes rather than dealing with the headaches of trying to drill them. Nozzles printed with ESD-HT have the ability to resolve holes that are smaller than 0.8m in diameter (a typical size for nozzles) while maintaining the necessary stiffness to accurately pick and place components in their target locations. In a matter of hours these nozzles can be printed and in a SMT pick and place machine laying out components on circuit boards.

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