Who would have thought that circuits could be created on 3D surfaces, and that too using a rubber mold?
It is now possible! While Laser Directed Structuring has been extensively in use to create circuits on three-dimensional (3D) objects, it involves the use of expensive, complex tools that are not easily available to many. Recently, an alternative approach was invented by a research group at University of Nebraska, USA. The results from this long-term project have revealed that circuits can be designed and created on curved and 3D surfaces using much simpler and relatively cheap processing tools.
We all know how much innovation impacts our scientific advances. This new achievement is impressive and there are so many possibilities with regards to its application.
How Was It Done?
A team of researchers led by Prof. Stephen Morin and Dr. Abhiteja Konda at University of Nebraska achieved this remarkable innovation. The traditional, rigid, flat circuit boards have become too restrictive to match the needs for more innovative designs for electronics and other smart gadgets.
Morin and his team imprinted circuits onto 3D and flexible plastic surfaces using microscopic channels. The channels are created in a rubber-like polymer using a popular technique in the field of microfluidics—soft lithography. The channels are designed based on the pattern of the circuit design that was required.
After the microscopic channels were created, the tiny crevices are then sealed. Through chemistry, and flowing different solutions, copper, which is a good conductor, was deposited; these copper traces provided a path for conduction of electric power through the circuit.
Because of this, it becomes a three-dimensional circuit, which is different from conventional planar circuit boards, yet retains the same capabilities.
This work titled “Soft microreactors for the deposition of conductive metallic traces on planar, embossed, and curved surfaces” was published in Advanced Functional Materials.
The Potential Application of Flexible Circuits
With the advancement of this technology, it is easy to name some notable industries that can be impacted.
The use of flexible circuitry can enhance studies and projects in fields such as microelectronics, consumer electronics, automobiles, and others.
Advantages of 3D Circuits
This innovative technology is still in its early stages, but it is expected that it will offer many advantages.
It is not yet certain whether these circuits will increase the lifespan of products as there are fewer moving parts, but this is one of the potential advantages.
Here are other notable benefits that are achievable with the use of 3D circuitry in products…
Lower Manufacturing Costs
The use of this technology reduces the quantity of materials needed to produce different products. Subsequently, the need for fewer materials will lower production costs.
Flexible circuits can be applied in different projects that cut across a wide range of industries. Elaborate flexible circuitry designs can be used to maximise unused areas within a product, to add more features to products.
Fewer Design Restrictions
Designers can leverage the new circuitry method to achieve much better, visually appealing designs, because they are not restricted by the rigid planar circuit boards.
Manufacturers and designers can produce more portable products by eliminating the weight of the planar circuit boards.
Overall, the versatility of the flexible circuit system creates an opportunity to integrate multiple functionalities on one circuit board. This is an achievement that can enhance the field of soft robotics, where the products designed can perform multiple functions aided by the three-dimensional flexible circuit system.