Mass Production 3D Printing is a very affordable means of producing custom shipping trays and packaging. Since there is no molding cost, but a still a high production capacity, custom packaging solutions can be created for the same of less cost as traditional methods. And, and since it is always a custom solution the results are often better.
PCB's come in all shapes and sizes. Because of this transport can sometimes be difficult. The pieces need to be well protected (both from physical harm and ESD dangers). Very often PCB makers and chip manufactures will resort to traditional generic packaging solutions. Such as vacuum-formed plastic trays and injection molded ESD safe waffle trays.
But these have a limited viability. A chip may need special features to help with manufacturing or just a shape that works with a PCB that is outside the norm.
3D Printing can quickly create custom trays at volume without a long lead time or high expense. Generally it takes about a 1-2 weeks to complete production of several hundred trays. And depending on material the cost per chip for the packaging can be between $0.10 and $0.50, comparable to traditional solutions.
But since 3D Printing is a different process these trays need to be designed slightly differently. Here are some basic notes for your internal design teams if they are looking to design custom PCB trays. Though we also offer Design services if needed
Use Nubs or Tabs as Finding Features
Traditional designs would just have a peg with a hole to act as a finding feature when trays are stacked. This does not work with 3D Printed PCB trays because that would create an overhangin during printing. And overhang is a feature that juts at 90 degrees from a part, like the branch of a tree. Most trays are printed on end so finding pegs become that overhang.
The best alternative it to just a use small nub. This will will still prevent shifting without creating an overhang.
The other option that perfectly replaced the peg is a slot and tab. Just make certain to have the the them positioned parallel to the longest side of the tray (Again because the part will be printed with its longest side vertical on the print bed.)
Angle the Chip Slots if Overly Large
FDM 3D Printing is used to create these types of trays therefore there is a limit to how large of an bridging overhand, like the top of a chip slot, can be. generally if that upper surface is greater than 1 inch wide then this option needs to be used.
Basically, the rotate chip slots so that they no longer follow a rectangular pattern. Instead of squares they become diamonds. This eliminates the overhang and instead gives each slot a slanted roof.
This is a very simple rule. But it provides a huge advantage because it can reduce cost and improve quality at the same time. Just eliminate any sharp edge, and if a fillet can be made larger, make it larger.
Add Labeling and Branding
While 3D Printing requires some shifts in design thinking due to manufacturing limitations, there are a few things that it contributes that can vastly improve your product. Since there is no mold involved you can actually create features for free that were not even possible before. Labeling is one of those.
This labeling can be something as simple as the name of the company producing the chips, or information about the batch and chip name for us in production. An example of branding is shown below for one of our clients Silicon Mountain Contract Services
Not many trays are able to actually retain the chip in place so that it won't fall out. These features are exceptionally difficult to mold affordably. But with 3D Printing they are free to add.
Production 3D Printing can create exceptionally complex mechanisms, again without significant added cost depending on the cost. But for specialty applications systems can be created that control chips in just the right way so that they are not damaged but are released when needed in a production line. When working with Plexus we created a simple locking tab system that was able to hold the proprietary chips from the side but them lock open so that they could be removed on the factory floor.
3D Printing is very affordable and very flexible, it is an ideal way to create custom packaging solutions for PCB's or any other type of product. Why we have even done consumer packaging at times.
But the quickest way to find out if 3D Printing is right for your application is to submit a quote with your needs and specifications and one of our account engineers will be in contact with you soon.