Prize-winning laser device builds 3D circuits

An innovative 3D laser-structuring system that can cut costs and reduce assembly work has won a top industrial award.

Judges at Hannover Messe have given this year's Hermes Award – a prize for innovation that carries a total purse of €100,000 – to local firm LPKF Laser & Electronics for its Fusion3D laser-direct structuring (LDS) process, which can build three-dimensional electronic circuitry onto plastic components.

In the LDS process, the base component is simply injection-moulded in a doped thermoplastic. It is then activated by the device's four lasers, creating microscopically-rough areas with metallic nuclei which act as a catalyst for reductive copper plating. The part is then metallised and can also be plated if needed. The resulting 3D “PCB” is reflow-solderable and compatible with standard 3D SMT processes, according to LPKF.

Components made in this way can combine electronic and mechanical functions, and assuming a suitable component layout, they need no separate cables, connectors or screening. LPKF offered as examples the ability to “print” radio antennae onto the casing of a mobile phone; BMW has also used the technology to write switches onto the plastic structure of a car steering wheel.

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