The Future of Printable Electronics — Introducing Voltera Nova!
A new technology is transforming electronics manufacture. 3D-printed circuit boards (3D PCBs) allow electronics producers to build complex circuits faster, save on costs, explore new circuitry shapes, produce flexible circuits, and resolve persistent supply chain disruptions. At the forefront of …
A new technology is transforming electronics manufacture. 3D-printed circuit boards (3D PCBs) allow electronics producers to build complex circuits faster, save on costs, explore new circuitry shapes, produce flexible circuits, and resolve persistent supply chain disruptions.
At the forefront of this electronics revolution is Voltera. The Canadian company recently released its new Nova extrusion printer. This machine is the world’s first printer capable of producing soft, stretchable, and conformable circuits.
Read on to learn what 3D PCBs are and how Voltera Nova is revolutionising their manufacture.
What Are 3D-Printed Circuit Boards?
Printed circuit boards (PCBs) are not a new phenomenon. They’ve existed for decades and are, in fact, essential for modern electronics manufacture.
3D PCBs, on the other hand, are a relatively new phenomenon. These circuit boards are produced mainly through two methods.
In the hollow tracing method, the 3D printer creates a “shell” with channels that are later filled with conductive material. Meanwhile, conductive material printing involves printing the conducting and insulating inks or filaments directly onto a substrate.
Manufacturers are embracing this new technology because of the indisputable benefits it delivers. 3D PCBs can be produced in hours, as opposed to days or even months with traditional production methods. As such, they’re more cost-efficient, can be built on demand, and can achieve more complex geometries than conventional PCBs.
That said, 3D PCBs are still in their infancy and their full potential is yet to be unlocked. But innovative companies — like Voltera — are rapidly taking electronics into the future.
Enter Voltera Nova
Voltera, founded in 2013 and headquartered in Ontario, Canada, was founded with the goal of making the production of low-volume custom PCBs more feasible. To this end, the company released its first extrusion printer — Voltera V-One.
V-One was among the first desktop-sized extrusion printers, intended to produce conventional rigid PCBs. But as time went on, Voltera noticed users were attempting to print on novel materials, like flexible and stretchable materials.
Although the printer wasn’t intended for these applications, it performed well. But Voltera was convinced it could do better.
In October 2022, Voltera released its new Nova extrusion printer. This machine is the world’s first 3D PCB printer intended to print soft and flexible electronics.
Nova builds on V-One’s foundations by expanding the range of compatible substrates and introducing significant technological upgrades.
Voltera Nova Technical Specs
|Machine Size||675mm x 605mm x 345 mm|
|Print area||220 mm x 300 mm|
|XY Positional Accuracy||+/-15μm|
|Max. Dispenser Temperature||40°C|
|Min. Trace Width||100μm|
|Print Height Resolution||+/-10μm|
|Custom Fixturing Options||M5 threads, 40mm square grid, 6mm depth|
Voltera Nova introduces a new approach to 3D PCB production. As the first printer specifically designed for creating soft, stretchable, and conformable electronics, Nova allows electronics producers to explore possibilities that have simply not been possible before.
Nova is a modular platform that is capable of printing onto both rigid and flexible surfaces of any material. The printer achieves this flexibility through a number of advancements in components and technologies.
Realtime, closed-loop pressure feedback improves Nova’s printing accuracy, allowing it to produce high-resolution circuitry traces as thin as 100μm. The pressure system is housed in Nova’s Smart Dispenser unit, which also features semi-automated ink calibration.
Nova’s Smart Probe maps the surface of the used substrate, allowing the machine to print even on non-flat surfaces. Together with a titanium vacuum printing table that secures virtually any substrate firmly in place, Nova unlocks the doors of printing flexible electronics.
The Nova Advantage
An integrated machine vision system and AR overlay allow operators to align, print and inspect 3D PCBs in detail. Taken together, Voltera Nova’s features provide manufacturers with several advantages, including:
- High Precision: The Smart Dispenser’s pressure feedback system enables Nova to print high-resolution circuits without the need for tooling and screens. You can produce intricate circuitry on both small and large substrates.
- Design Freedom: You can create a great variety of different 3D PCBs with Nova. Thanks to the large print area and extensive support in materials and substrate, you have few limits in what kind of PCBs you can create.
- Wide Material Range: The Smart Dispenser supports a variety of other materials — including custom inks — in addition to Voltera’s ACI FE3124 conductive ink and solder pastes. The semi-automated ink calibration feature gets you ready for printing within minutes.
- Fast Prototyping & Manufacturing: Nova has fast print speeds and allows the user to quickly swap and fix flexible and rigid materials in place by using the vacuum table or custom fixtures. The easy and speed of operation can help increase your productivity.
- Versatile Production: As a modular system, Nova features two quick-swap module ports, drop-in fixturing, and optional ethernet/USB/Wi-Fi connectivity. Voltera currently offers two swappable modules, with more scheduled for release in the future.
Applications for PCBs
Voltera Nova is a versatile machine that can produce 3D PCBs for practically any application. If your product or project requires a circuit board, you can likely produce it using Nova.
Some applications where the machine has proven itself include:
With fast production speed and intricate detail, Nova is an ideal fit for creating prototype PCBs. Manufacturers can create demo products quickly and affordably, enabling fast design iteration and shortening time to market.
Airplanes and spacecraft often require complex circuitry in unconventional shapes. Circuits printed with Voltera printers have already gone to space with Princeton CubeSat in February 2021. Voltera Nova enables the production on antennas, sensors, controllers, and more.
Medical technology often requires getting sensors as close to the skin as possible to get accurate readings from the patient’s body. With Voltera Nova, medical researchers and doctors can print flexible, stretchy circuitry onto biocompatible substrates that attach snugly on the skin, such as silver biomedical tattoo electrodes.
Trends in consumer electronics are constantly moving towards thinner and more flexible products, such as foldable smartphones and wearable electronics. Nova allows electronics manufacturers to create small and flexible circuits for a wide variety of products, including wearable electronics incorporated into clothing.
Voltera Nova is an affordable machine that is a very popular addition to research and training laboratories in schools and universities around the world. Future electronics engineers and additive manufacturing professionals can train their skills with an intricate machine they’re likely to use in their real-life jobs.
The Flexible Future of Electronics
Advancements in technology and the demand from both consumers and businesses are driving electronics towards ever smaller and more complex devices. At the moment, flexible electronics are the latest craze — and who knows what tomorrow will bring?
Voltera Nova allows electronics manufacturers and researchers futureproof their production processes. The new machine enables users to create whole new types of 3D PCBs.
“I think where this sort of technology, Nova, will shine is in applications that were not possible before. You shouldn’t fight or try to compete with silicon chips or PCBs. You should try to make something that’s impossible with those technologies,” said Gerd Grau, Director of the Electronics Additive Manufacturing Lab at York University.