There are two printers being shown off at the 2015 Consumer Electronics shows which really spark our interest. They are the Voltera and the Voxel8. Each is taking on the challenge of printing circuits. They use similar techniques but approach the problem in very different ways.
The Voxel8 marries the idea of a 3D printer with a silver conductive ink dispenser. You start by modeling your entire design, hardware and electronics, all in one. The printer will then begin the 3D print, pausing when necessary for you to add electronics and mechanicals. With the parts — and their pins — in place it lays out the conductive ink to connect the components and then continues with the 3D printing to finish the object.
The Voltera is a PCB printer that uses silver conductive ink. It prints the ink onto a substrate. Pads made of the ink are used to solder the components in place after the printing is finished. The trick added to this design is the ability to print two layers, both on the same side of the board. There is a second ink material which is an insulator. It is laid over the first conductive layer before the second is printed, allowing traces to cross over each other.
Congratulations to the Voltera team who won $50k from the 2015 Hardware Battlefield at CES.
We didn’t see enough to shake our skepticism about the viability of silver conductive ink to take the place of copper on prototype boards. But if anyone is going to make the case that it is plausible these two offerings will.
One interesting thing about the Voxel8 is the ability to specify point-to-point wiring as a “part”. If you do so, the machine will pause while you solder the wires in place before it encapsulates them with the rest of the print. Of course if you’re going to do this manually it shouldn’t really matter which printer you use for it.
What do think about the future of conductive ink for prototyping? Lets us know in the comments.