Additive Manufacturing in the Semiconductor Industry

The technology to use additive manufacturing has been around for more than three decades, but it’s only quite recently that it’s been possible to explore this in more depths.

A number of different industries have benefitted from the extension of additive manufacturing, with fields such as medicine, aerospace and automotive redesigning some of their more conventional production methods.

Additive manufacturing offers a number of different advantages than conventional techniques, allowing parts to be created which are more geometrically complex, stronger and yet more economical too. 3D printing as it’s often referred to in the popular media is a technology which has captured the public’s imagination yet it’s already in use far more than many people realise.

The semi-conductor industry is one which holds the possibility for fascinating developments, as the techniques for additive manufacturing become more refined and more intricate work becomes possible.

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Case Study

Printing Electronics

Circuitry and electronics have long been a particularly challenging task for additive manufacturing because of the complexity of the functioning of each of the individual components. Nevertheless, it’s now possible to use additive manufacturing techniques to “print” electronics, using semiconductor material.

This has been managed with the use of semiconductor inks which can be extruded directly from the printer, opening up the option to create fully operational circuit boards.

 

Computers use such complex circuitry that printing them with a manufacturing additive process is not yet fully viable, but there are many other products which use semiconductors which benefit from the technology already.

Up until now, the compatible materials available for printing didn’t permit the production of semi conductive components, but with the development of specialised inks, circuitry and other electronics are now entirely feasible.

Possibilities

Being able to print semi conductive material doesn’t just open up the path for a revolution in the field of commercial electronics, there’s a number of other industries which could be affected too.

Scientists are now able to print both LEDs and circuitry using semi conductive material, and by combining this with the world of biomedical technology, the results could be incredible. Using LEDs and circuitry in tandem with growing nerve tissue, additive manufacturing could be the way to help a prosthetic arm interface more effectively with the host body by using lights to stimulate movement. Other possibilities include a “smart” contact lens that features built-in displays.

Research is currently ongoing into the possibility of creating a semiconducting material that holds the possibility of processing sound as it’s received. This follows on from recent research which created a “bio-electronic” ear, made from a combination of living cells and conductive ink.

 

3D printing of LEDs.

3D printing of LEDs.

Semiconductors are seen as a key component to a number of different possible uses for the additive manufacturing technology, because of their ability to emit and detect light, as well as their integral role in the processing of information within a circuit.

 

Nanotechnology

In order to achieve the best results, additive manufacturing must be used with nanotechnology to prevent creating just one soggy mess.

The dimensions of each individual component are quite literally tiny, on the scale of micrometers, a size which is dwarfed by millimeters (to give a sense of perspective). Using multiple Nano particles of a semiconducting nature carried the risk of them bleeding and merging, wiping out the qualities that are intended to be preserved.

Therefore using a solvent to suspend each individual semiconductor is necessary to retain the functioning.

It’s only with the use of additive manufacturing that such precise methods can be used; with no risk of human misinterpretation, an extremely accurate result can be achieved.

Multiple Benefits

Using additive manufacturing in the semiconductor industry has allowed scientists to take a giant leap forward with their research, achieving results which wouldn’t have been possible via conventional means.

Semiconductors are integral to all kinds of electronics, with everything from solar powered cells to computer circuits reliant on this kind of material.

Joining semiconducting materials has presented enormous difficulties in the past because of their sensitivity to the presence of other materials or defects in the structure. This has made it close to impossible to create two surfaces of semiconducting material that can be joined.

The additive manufacturing technology means in the near future, printing a piece of semiconducting material could be as easy as printing out a colour photo right now. With such a huge amount of momentum in the field of 3D printing and additive manufacturing, there’s the possibilities of almost endless developments, both in the field of semiconductors and elsewhere.

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