The semiconductor industry is the largest consumer of mechatronics technology. This should not come as a surprise to anyone. The amount of slicing, dicing, probing, handling, packaging and inspection that is required to turn sand into a working microelectronic device is amazing. The number of axes of stepping motors, brushless servo motors, linear motors, voice coil motors, vacuum rated robots, high bandwidth amplifiers, position feedback devices that are needed to support chip manufacture is staggering.
The mechatronics challenge is ongoing in semiconductor applications as feature sizes continue to shrink from millionths of an inch to features that are measured in wavelengths of light. The industry is now in the deep ultraviolet range where position measurement is truly challenging. Unfortunately, the cost of technology development for 450mm wafer and deep ultraviolet feature sizes is so expensive that it is beyond the reach of any single company.
While electronic assembly is the top level of electronic integration, many of the same dynamics are appearing. Feature size and accuracy have become smaller and placement speed is greater than 50,000 parts per hour in the high end machines. These machines are dominated by linear motors and high performance controls that have to manage high masses, making the application a major challenge to important metrics like repeatability.
The cost of chip fabs is now in the billions of dollars. High throughput assembly machines are often $250,000 or more. Populating a serious manufacturing facility requires millions of dollars of investment. Most contract manufacturers cannot supply products unless they can run 10,000 at a time. All of which make electronics the next frontier requiring innovation.
In order for there to be a serious shift in electronics, an alternative approach is required. Enter the small startup ElectronInks. The team at Electroninks has invented Circuit Scribe, a new and ultimately low cost solution to the creation of electronic circuits.
The Circuit Scribe is a roller ball pen that “writes” with conductive ink. It makes working circuits on paper and other materials. The ink dries immediately and produces working circuits in any shape you can imagine. Talk about instant gratification!
You get one on their KickStarter campaign for $20. The first realization is that prototype circuit costs are practically zero and lead times are effectively a thing of the past. Plating and resist processes and the toxic chemicals and vapors are gone. If you make a mistake, no big deal, just re-draw what you were working on. For teaching and learning electronics this is the ultimate in simplicity and elegance.
Taking this approach to the next level with inks that have other electronic behaviors will make understanding electronics much more engaging and provide the same boost to creativity 3D printing has brought to other segments of the manufacturing world.