Around 1990 there was a promising attempt to do this by Ariel Electronics (California), which created a gadget called the Circuit Writer which extruded conductive plastic wires onto a substrate. I actually visited Ariel and saw a Circuit Writer working. I don't think the technology got anywhere, but maybe it was just ahead of its time and with newer 3D extrusions this could be done practically. For more info, Google "ariel electronics circuit writer".
It's unlikely that there would be a low cost tool to make PCBs using the 3D printing approach since you would need to print an insulating substrate followed by (or combined with) metal. All the low cost 3D printers I know about can only do plastic...
I have seen tools that used a CNC approach where you start with copper-clad PCB blanks and the tool cut lines in the copper to generate spaces between the traces. I think they were limited to simple designs with larger traces. I haven't heard of any recently but then I haven't looked....
We see a lot of different type of PC boards here in my day job. Of course, standard FR-4 is the most common. Flex boards show up now and then, as do rigid flex. Every now and then an aluminum PCB comes in. These are usually small board for high-power LEDs.
High layer counts are becomming more common - I've seen as high as 30. Those ones are pretty hard to do.
Pretty much everything I do right now lives on a protoboard till it gets dead-bugged. I don't do any PCB design at all since everything in my workshop is extremely simple. I do however LOVE the asthetics of a PCB and plan on keeping a close eye on this designline if only for the visuals!
NASA's Orion Flight Software Production Systems Manager Darrel G. Raines joins Planet Analog Editor Steve Taranovich and Embedded.com Editor Max Maxfield to talk about embedded flight software used in Orion Spacecraft, part of NASA's Mars mission. Live radio show and live chat. Get your questions ready.
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