Sohail Iqbal

ABSTRACT 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 stereo lithography 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.

INDEX TERMS 3D printed electronics, additive manufacturing, direct-print, electronic gaming die, hybrid
manufacturing, rapid prototyping, structural electronics, three-dimensional electronics.

I. INTRODUCTION alternatively, with fused deposition modeling
A new product typically undergoes several (FDM) which offers robust thermoplastic materials
transformations before becoming available for sale but at the expense of reduced spatial resolution and
to the general public. A new device idea is initially anisotropic mechanical strength with a loss of
prototyped in order to evaluate the fit and finish of performance in the build direction. While AM
the final part as well as to optimize the fabrication technology continues to advance in terms of
process to identify difficulties in manufacture. material properties and minimum features sizes, the
These steps can be time-consuming and expensive, technology until recently has remained best suited
creating a significant obstacle for new product for manufacturing prototypes for conceptual
introductions especially for startups that may not modeling – relegated to only satisfying the need for
have the appropriate, usually expensive, machining evaluation of form and fit of the device casing or
equipment required for prototyping. structural features.
Until now, no option has existed for validation of
both form and functionality simultaneously – where
Additive Manufacturing (AM) was introduced in functionality includes electronics, energy sources,
the late 1980’s in order to rapidly prototype sensors and displays – all of which require
structures and allow manufacturers to circumvent additional lead times for bread-boarding, debugging
the lengthy process of traditional prototyping by and integration. This paper describes a project
providing either a scaled-down or full-scale showcasing an enhanced 3D printing technology
mechanical replica of the designed product. These that dramatically reduced the full design cycle of an
devices were typically only conceptual models due example electronic device: a novelty six-sided
to limitations of the AM technologies – in which gaming die. The process - from concept, through
compromises were made in terms of material prototyping, to the final manufactured part is
choices, surface finish and dimensional accuracies. described noting the significant advantages of
For instance, stereo lithography (SL) provided employing AM. In this example, form, fit,
high-accuracy and superior surface finish but with aesthetics and functionality were explored by 3D
photo-curable materials that suffer from poor printing several versions of electronic devices as
mechanical strength or durability and degrade or rapid, high-fidelity prototypes prior to committing
discolor with prolonged UV exposure, or to traditional production. The eventual goal, is for

have been 100 feet [16]. satellites. Fabrication of complex. etc. These technologies were these integrated processes [17]. In order to verify functionality. application of ultrasonic energy to prevent the horn The seminal concept of printing multi. Further. which are Utilizing a conductive silicone to form the increasingly encased in 3D forms. batteries. where circuit in a metal protective housing [25]. In order .the were decreased [4]. proving vital in cost and time-savings for the multiple layers of components and interconnect was development process. in the context of Fab Home . the Direct or wire embedding can be used to deposit electrical Write approach was integrated with Ultrasonic interconnects through the precise printing of Consolidation (UC) technology and FDM to conductive inks or wires to realize traces between fabricate embedded electronic components within components. chips. and other low volume Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and high value applications. these deficiencies have begun to be demonstrated by [24] on a polythermide substrate addressed through enhanced 3D printing. Subsequently. unmanned aerial [15] and in 1996 with funding from the Defense vehicles (UAVs). while either micro-dispensing the substrate (additive). in a traditional manufacturing process [3] – in this intricately detailed dielectric substrates created with case. which provided the electrical interconnects material requirements for AM processing. a 555 flashing circuit in prototyping only provided fit and form verification both two and three dimensions. However Direct Write technologies to deposit silver loaded due to the limitations resulting from the distinct inks. and the careful [13]. a flashlight and a of the housing.to create simple. which allowed designers to included the high accuracy capabilities of SL with verify the fit and form of a product within a few the material dispensing capabilities and precision of hours of completing the CAD design [1]. rapid electrical interconnects. there was no need for tooling and logistics costs In 2007 [23] utilized a tabletop AM system . This methodology was patented in the material required for the end-use final product 2008 [21]. such as using a different process called laser direct write SL or FDM. This process was patented in 1994 production of novelty toys. but was functionality can be traced back at least two ultimately successful in building a functional decades to the experiments described in [14]. the research led to the extensively used for successful rapid prototyping of creation of improved algorithms for optimization of mechanical structures. However. a toy character with eyes that illuminated upon separate bread boarding activity was required that pressing the belly were fabricated. prototyping electronic circuits. the between components to enable true electronic designer was unable to fabricate the prototype in functionality. [18]–[20] developed a dual process that complex geometries. the deposition of antennas. yet functional circuits. sensors. exceptionally well suited for the fabrication of In 2004. house the electronic components. demonstrated the repackaging of the components of a personal computer for divers into a case II. An example included a functional have also been used to produce end-use parts in circuit with a 555-timer oscillator and thermistor in low volumes through rapid manufacturing order to illuminate a Light-emitting diode (LED) at techniques that proved to be economic because a rate based on the measured temperature [22]. With this integrated manufacturing solid metal structures. similar LM555 timer circuit was independently Recently. passives. The AM micromachining (subtractive) as well as controlling technology can fabricate a dielectric substrate in the amount of conductive material transferred to any arbitrary form.e. A function – two separate activities. such as in the components. since inception.) fully functional 3D a layer of thermoset insulator to prevent the base structural electronic devices can be achieved [5]– metal from shorting the circuit. AM has also been used to improve TTM the creation of a custom-built machine that through rapid tooling in which molds could be integrated an SL system with a dispensing pump to fabricated more quickly and then subsequently used automate the process. from damaging the electronic components. In other work. PREVIOUS WORK conformal to the leg of a diver and waterproof to AM techniques. The process required capability along with the insertion of electronic subtractive technologies to carve out a cavity to components (i.3D printing to become the preferred manufacturing a two-part polyurethane foam was cast to form a method for industries where the use of AM preferred packaging for existing electronic structures provides a real advantage. in combination with both conductor (LDW) in which a laser was used for embedding and robotic pick-and place. Printing vertical did not integrate the verification of form with interconnects was identified as a challenge. The research was further enhanced with [2]. AM technologies now possible.

but eventually two-dimensional surface for the circuit based on for the manufacturing of final. When the achieved greater utilization of the available volume device included sophisticated electronics. color. 1 shows a circuit design that utilizes all was to implement bread board prototypes and to available surfaces of a pre-defined volume to accept the inherent delays that come with the accomplish layout of components. reliability may stand as the only significant barrier between the prototype becoming an end-use final product or not.at a minimum . electronics functionality. significant work is necessary in Although this new manufacturing technology terms of process planning [26] and material allows for more complete evaluations with high development [27]. The circuit prototypes that can perform practically the same volume was reduced to a volume of 0.5’’ function within the same form as the final product by 0. When required. 3D PRINTED ELECTRONICS mechanical engineering CAD software like PROTOTYPING SolidWorks without the inherent features for Though typical methodologies like clay models.for any of these hybrid systems to become A. not only for form and appearance. As a result. However. finish. surface original design. This schematic of which was provided by engineers at novel manufacturing.g. the traditional procedure to prototype electronics Fig. end-use. the proposed hybrid AM process can fabricate prototypes that will enable at least a comprehensive evaluation of the final design. however. these given the fabrication freedom offered by the methodologies could not address the need for manufacturing technology – with complex prototyping a fully functional part. operate under the fabrication for .5’’ by 0. these types of placement has been done by hand. simulation. a hybrid of AM NASA’s Johnson Space Center as a benchmark complemented with component placement robotics circuit in order to demonstrate the volumetric and embedding of conductors – can create efficiencies of 3D printed electronics. in products outside of the consumer markets. All of these collective efforts fidelity prototypes. electrical interconnect within AM structures during These programs however. Improvements in the area of reliability are inevitable with substantial research in materials and AM processing already in progress. high-value. The original 3D printing process of fabricating structural device was a signal conditioning circuit – the electronics provides an appealing alternative. and physical implementation in this paper . substantial challenges remain. Each serves as a commercially available software packages that testament to the importance and interest in the allow for component placement and routing of capability to in-situ embed electronics and wires to create electrical interconnects on a PCB. A newly developed the internal volume of the device. component placement and routing for 3D printed designs has been done manually in 3D space using III. or texture.possibly the most complicated of printed circuit boards – PCBs) includes mature. Until these end-use requirements can be fulfilled. This lack of software one-off samples handmade by skilled craftsmen. support has relegated 3D printing of electronic and more recently AM technologies have largely devices to relatively simple circuits as routing and addressed the need for prototypes. likewise utilized all available surfaces as well as possibly weeks or even months. 3D PRINTED ELECTRONICS CHALLENGES functionalized. traditional PCB manufacturing. As an example. geometries easily fabricated in 3D. but also for electronics functionality simultaneously. The routing has normal process of electronics manufacturing. have led to the fabrication of ever more intricate The area of electronics design (e. the customized 3D products.prototyping assumption of the workspace being a predefined. example of 3D printed electronics.125’’ as shown with a component and trace – although possibly not fulfilling some of the other density of 27% significantly reduced from the end-use characteristics such as reliability. purposes as described in this paper. . such as in the aerospace or biomedical industries. schematic devices up to and including the research presented capture. the parts have been exclusively made to test circuit designs that have been completed have appearance and fit of the completed part.

3D printed signal conditioning circuit.g.56 mm) and mechanical CAD software to be ‘‘deformed’’ miniaturized footprints. With the trenches. A) Battery charging circuit to be deformed and hape. spreading and resulting in electrical shorts prior to thermal curing. represented as an ‘‘unfolded’’ outer surface (e. 2(a) shows the application of the above- described methodology for a battery charge protection circuit that can be implemented on a 2D surface without cross-over points and thus only FIGURE 3. line pitches (e. 3 illustrates a more complex design with a ‘‘wrapped’’ about an axis of revolution (curved side microcontroller and accelerometer in surface mount of a cylinder). This base . In this example. 2(b) illustrates the challenges were present: (1) the planes were final representation from both sides. The use of existing electronics CAD design software for layout and routing of 3D printed electronic devices is possible when the 3D shape can be represented initially as a flat 2Dsurfaceandthen‘‘deformed’’toafinalintended3Ds FIGURE 2. two additional lithium polymer battery. the SL process dictates the routing density based on the laser resolution rather than the resolution of the micro- dispensing system or the viscosity of the inks. Electronic circuit mechanically designed into required a single surface of interconnect. the surface with a trench to allow for depositing ink These can be seen as tubular channels that tunnel without the concern of the conductive inks underneath other traces to avoid shorting. center to center minimum distances) were 560 microns. Fig. FIGURE 1. which in this example contains a included circuits on flat 2D planes.g. Mechanical CAD software can later packaging echnol ‘‘deform’’ 2D circuits generated from electrical CAD software with curved and folded edges. Although the design around a cylinder. Fig. Cavities are connected with 90 degree connections around the formed to place components and UV curable corners which needed to be physically protected material is used as adhesive to hold the devices in and (2) the 2D circuits required several cross-over place. Utilizing more than one surface as well as connections between multiple surfaces (similar to vias in PCBs) are necessary to provide complex circuit networks regardless of the underlying deformation geometry. such cases include a volume that can be B) both sides of the final mechanical representation. six sides of a cube) or a curved surface that has been Fig. limiting routing to 2D planes foregoes the capability of realizing interconnects between layers . circuit was first placed and routed in electrical CAD software and subsequently imported into ogy that provides fine pin pitch (0. However.relegating the circuits to simple networks without the use of cross-over points. Each interconnect trace was designed into points due to the complexity of the circuit network. The substrate.

The major priority was within the target volume. These would be later providing the desired functionality. while still an undesirable complication. The channels. were like wise of the concept. A final prototype version was implemented using traditional manufacturing techniques for commercial viability analysis and used for cost and manufacturing time comparison. (2) The use of individual LED control implemented manually using mechanical CAD was also deemed unnecessary. meaning that the case could be sealed placed connected in series. the overall design began by defining mechanically built into the design of the dice. allowing for the reduction of I/O ports used on the TABLE 1. 2) VERSION 2: LITHIUM POLYMER BATTERY WITH A WIRELESS CHARGING SYSTEM The second prototype improved on the shortcomings observed on the first iteration and is shown in Fig. and availability sufficiently small to allow for the desired operation were evaluated in turn. instead. GAMING DIE VERSIONS The concept to be prototyped in both form and function was a typical gaming die in terms of size with additional electronic functionality that provided for (1) the determination of the die coming to rest after a roll. the LEDs were not For the first version. and (3) flashing of the LEDs on the top surface. The concept as well as the availability of components constraints of cost. each side could be grouped together for simplicity. After the circuit replaced with rechargeable batteries to avoid was finalized. This consequently higher cost was considered modification allowed for a physically smaller acceptable. the components were designed into the volume of . 4 shows the design of the dice microcontroller with a smaller pin count. The design underwent three prototype optimization versions. FIGURE 4. The electronic circuit This prototype demonstrated the feasibility of the was developed to provide the stated operation. List of required components. LEDs for software. microcontroller and providing smaller overall dimensions of the largest chip component. to provide dice. improved and iterated owing to the availability of the enhanced AM process. 5. and groups per face that would flash separately. cost and component individually controlled by a corresponding micro- availability did not carry a high priority as the controller I/O port. there were up to two initial devices served as prototypes. the functional requirements.design represents the outer shell of the gaming the die itself. Fig. replaceable batteries was seen as based on a measured commercial die). The cavities for each of upon assembly for additional structural robustness. In this version. (17mm or 19mm per side use of disposable. (2) detection of final orientation. Design of prototype version 1. B. The constructed from two parts. Instead. the number of components increased requiring a structure that could be opened to 25 (Table 1) and the layout and routing was repeatedly. The first version given to the availability of components that would prototype also revealed shortcomings that would be allow for the fabrication of a dice within normal addressed in future iterations of the design: (1) the physical dimensions. which housed the cylindrical battery circuit interconnects between shown in Fig. to allow access to a disposable batteries were replaced by a lithium cavity where two silver oxide batteries would be polymer cell. 1) VERSION 1: NON-RECHARGEABLE BATTERIES The first prototype was made to test the feasibility Each of the components. functionality. each of which was quickly implemented. 2.

TRADITIONAL 3D ELECTRONICS circuits. printed circuit board paradigm. fabrication. laptops. Simultaneously. The final design. the overall volume power module cylinder was modified by merging increase allowed for a physical design change. both in CAD and actual corners provide the dice with less inhibited rolling. An induction charge system was polymer battery from any computer USB port. 6. defense and improvement over the previous version. 3) VERSION 3: USING RECHARGEABLE LITHIUM POLYMER BATTERY WITH A STANDARD USB CHARGING PORT The third prototype stage addressed the shortcoming identified in version 2.) has been driven towards better shortcomings were also identified in this device: volume utilization without abandoning the flat The need for a custom made charging station. Limited success has which would require additional external been achieved by layering planar circuit boards and components and likewise would introduce further interconnecting the boards through flat ribbon complexity and cost. Through safety and a charging circuit inside the device and a this charging port. This developed to allow non-contact charging. however the induction charging was eliminated and replaced . by providing as conductive trace spacing was also improved by simple user interface and reducing the sale price by switching to an overall dice dimension of 19mm eliminating the separate charging station. Version 3 design FIGURE 5. the the power circuit with the sealing cap used in introduction of significant rounding of the dice version 2. The design of traditionally manufactured Though this iteration was a significant electronics (e. A cap was used to seal the assembly. A power module was designed to include a lithium polymer cell and the required safety and charging IV. ease of manufacturability due to from a commercial perspective. FIGURE 6. a simple USB to micro USB-b special methodology to be developed to charge the cable can be utilized to directly charge the lithium batteries. modification was intended to improve the appeal Finally.g. However. Design of prototype version 2. etc. cell phones. The per side. The overall design remained largely unchanged. is shown in Fig. space systems. The induction charging cables or system was subsequently abandoned. the modification also necessitated a with a simple micro USB-b charging port.

the flexible of the design of the six-sided gaming die was to circuit was then sent to an outside vendor for quote leverage the work previously done and to finalize and fabrication. through connectors which allow one circuit board routing software. commercially viable product (for a low-cost novelty toy market. for example – although as will be described later. may exist for the AM-fabricated die because of its unique touch and feel including the electronics integrated on the surfaces of the die) including full design consideration for (1) the final cost of the end-use product. The LEDs were manually laid out to electronics is to implement flexible printed circuit match the natural location of the die pips on each of boards or ‘flex circuits’ that allow some freedom to the six sides of the dice and the remaining conform to an irregular volume by bending the components were laid out on the opposite side from circuit into the final volume. The final physical to be mounted directly onto another with a implementation is shown in Fig. a higher cost market. say for a Las Vegas casino to provide gifts to its high rollers. a more conventional technique for (1) a hollow plastic cube built from plastic injection manufacture of the housing was chosen: a plastic molding providing the housing. the design using a traditional flexible circuit approach in order to produce a product with as low a cost point as possible. the ‘‘parting line’’. The manual interventions were still required. three main components included: Consequently. In order to produce a plastic circuit board designed as a flat unfolded cube and case. A handful of motherboard/daughterboard configuration. the LEDs to remain hidden on an internal surface. care must be taken to address some design folded into the cube cavity and (3) the battery. An alternative approach used in traditional 3D the circuit. B. 7. which is paramount for consumer electronics and (2) product reliability which is FIGURE 7. the smart dice. This step was necessary to advance the device into a more high volume. the current state of A. compromised with the use of conductive inks for electrical interconnect as used in the 3D printed methodology. Any vias traditional 3D electronics methodology can be connecting the top and bottom layers were more accurately described as 2D-layered or 2-1/2 manually moved away from the flexing points in D. FLEXIBLE PCB DESIGN development of these technologies still makes them For this final traditionally manufactured version of a costly alternative for mass production. (2) a flexible injection molded case. where the two mold . constraints particular to this technology. PLASTIC INJECTION MOLDED 3D CASE Though the advantages of AM techniques have been discussed at length. Automated design for flexible circuit. The next step in proposed development process As required for this methodology. While The flex circuit was a ‘cross’ shape prior to being designing a part to be fabricated through injection folded into the cube was created using layout and molding.

material extrusion versus vat photo polymerization – used in this example). must be determined so that once fabricated using the SL technique which. and consequently could be material to flow through the cavity to form the part. this system avoids V. fabricated for significantly less cost per device – this is achieved by. time and were therefore. The final design is currently underway and (2) the work described here shown in Fig. better suited for Likewise each part must be designed with a small prototyping in early stage development. draft angle to allow proper separation from the the reduced durability of the conductive inks and mold. keeping better for high volume production . and uneven cooling may In order to compare and contrast these cause thermal stress in the part. embedding of solid wires. two of fabrication time analysis would be similar and which have been discussed at length here: 1) an applicable to this next generation system as well. without solidified. However. micro-dispensing. The following available for the proposed gaming die. and furthermore. Alternatively. thermoplastics. as much as possible. as well as different forms of embedding conductors (ink-jetting. distortion or damage. 8. a new system based on FDM. bread boarding the circuit was in the channels for a total of 30 hours. Furthermore. enhanced 3D printing with the integration of In terms of time from design of part to first part conductor and component embedding. the part will allow the mold halves to requiring tooling. which resulted from either of corresponding settling time before the top surface two critical paths: (1) the time to order the injection could be illuminated. care must be version 4 was fabricated using traditional taken to ensure a smooth path for the plastic manufacturing.). However. etc.but with the wall thickness the same throughout the structure trade-off of extended lead times due to the required and eliminating sharp corners in the design. The draft angle ensures that the solidified photo curable polymers would presumably result in material is released from the mold without a less reliable final product [9]. Final version with traditional manufacturing. is the current focus of the research group. In fact. realistic assumptions can be made and conclusions can be drawn regarding the time required to fabricate a device of related complexity to the gaming die using a fully automated.halves will meet. version3(SL fabricated substrate with traditional flexible circuit fabrication embedded electrical components) required 6 hours for the within a plastic case fabricated with injection stereolithography and then 24 hours to populate the molding. would not be well suited for material cools. included significant amounts of manual intervention. As the tooling and therefore. cool at a slower rate. allowed for faster turn-around separate and the completed part to be extracted. and a wide range of different materials. It is important to note that in this substrate with components and deposit and cure ink application example. This stress can differences. Additionally. COMPARISON OF MANUFACTURING conductive inks by submerging wires directly into TECHNIQUES ON TIME TO MARKET the thermoplastic without disrupting planarization (TTM) of the substrate to allow for subsequent Of the various prototype fabrication techniques continuation of the fabrication. integrated 3D printing technique. which extrudes production-grade FIGURE 8. [28]. it is important to note that (1) the result in deformation and other defects and design research and development of a fully automated 3D guidelines were observed in the construction of the printing system with complete integration of the final die housing which would ultimately contain component and conductor embedding technology is the flex circuit and battery.g. Version 4 not sufficient to test the functionality as the (plastic injection molded shell with electrical electronics were required to be rolled (using the components on a flex PCB) required a minimum of six-sided die) to understand the impact of the 120 hours to build. Versions 1 through 3 were mold and build the molded shell (which could . even with different forms of 3D printing possible (e. regions with greater mass typically the development cycle. the assumptions of fabrication time remain reasonable and can be applied generally to other enhanced AM technologies. and 2) fabrication.

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