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Northrop Grumman study showcases performance and reliability of 3D printed electronics

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A team from aerospace and defense tech company Northrop Grumman is working to showcase the viability and reliability of electronics 3D printing by testing the performance of 3D printed electronic structures. The study, which was published in the journal IEEE Transactions on Components, Packaging and Manufacturing Technology, leverages Optomec’s Aerosol Jet technology to produce the printed electronics.

Though the field of 3D printed electronics is gradually advancing towards production applications, there are a number of challenges in transitioning the technology from the prototyping realm. That is, though printed electronics offers advantages in terms of turnaround times, cost and design freedom, important factors such as reliability and performance have come with certain issues. These problems are often caused by the material properties of 3D printed conductors and insulators, which tend to fall short of those of traditionally manufactured circuit materials.

A research initiative at Northrop Grumman using Optomec’s Aerosol Jet technology is hoping to change this perception. That is, the research team is conducting extensive reliability testing on 3D printed high performance interconnects and insulation dielectrics to showcase the viability of printing electronic structures that can perform up to the standard needed for real-world applications.

Optomec Northrop Grumman electronics

“We are continually impressed with the performance and reliability of printed interconnects for high frequency RF applications,” Optomec said about the project. “Researchers at Northrop Grumman have been working to demonstrate competent, additively printed components on GaAs substrates. The paper titled: ‘Direct On-Chip 3-D Aerosol Jet Printing With High Reliability’…shares details on how this is possible.”

The paper in question details the printing of dielectric layers and bridge-type gold interconnects on GaAs-based microwave integrated circuits (MMICs). Post-printing, the MMIC devices were subjected to a battery of RF testing and reliability testing. The results of the tests indicated that the devices did not have any detriment to RF performance, even with extensive thermal shock, thermal cycle and current stress tests.

Optomec added: “This work, completed by one of the world’s foremost companies in the defense marketplace for integrated circuits, Northrop Grumman, showcases Aerosol Jet’s flexibility as well as the reliability of printed features made with it. Its functionality with respect to feature size, materials flexibility, high stand off distance and digital cad to path ability enabled this work to be done. However, the work done by Xing Lan and his team is novel and pushes the boundaries of what can be done with Aerosol Jet with regards to RF GaAs Microwave structures.”

Optomec’s Aerosol Jet technology is capable of printing interconnects on both 2D and 3D substrates as well as 3D printing electronic components, including resistors, capacitors, antennas, sensors and thin film transistors. The technology works by depositing electronic inks onto substrates using “aerodynamic focusing.” This unique approach, which uses atomization, sheath gas and aerosol technology, enables printed features that range from 10 microns to millimeters in size.


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Tess Boissonneault

Tess Boissonneault is a Montreal-based content writer and editor with five years of experience covering the additive manufacturing world. She has a particular interest in amplifying the voices of women working within the industry and is an avid follower of the ever-evolving AM sector. Tess holds a master's degree in Media Studies from the University of Amsterdam.

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