Welcome to the Silicon Valley Neighborhood: Nano Dimension Arrives in California

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I-Connect007 Technical Editor Dan Feinberg accepted an invitation recently to tour Nano Dimension’s new USA headquarters in Santa Clara’s Silicon Valley, which included a sit-down with President and Co-Founder Simon Fried.

Dan Feinberg: Simon, your new facility and office look great. You have a warehouse with inventory, a demo lab, maintenance and conference areas, and you are up and running. I just saw the machines that you have in inventory that are ready to ship to customers. How are sales going in the U.S.?

Simon Fried: In the U.S. there are now systems on their way or already delivered to customers in the East, West and other areas of the country. Some of those machines are for Nano_Dem_demo_lab.jpgcustomers that were part of our beta program, as some beta users have already ordered commercial machines, and others we expect will follow. It is a great vote of confidence. We are now also working with excellent channel partners such as FATHOM in Oakland, California, and TriMech in Boston.

Feinberg: Ordering commercial machines instead of presently used betas is a vote of confidence. They had the beta, they know what it does. It's not a case of you sold them something that was not ready.

Fried: Yes. Many of them have spent six, 12, or more months learning how to use the technology. It’s advanced manufacturing and requires people to revisit some of their assumptions around what is possible; our technology changes that calculus. One of the key issues is for people to get their heads around is what DFAM—design for additive manufacturing—means for the electronics space. It’s revolutionary.

Using our technology for traditional PCB designs is straightforward. It's a more direct transition as you use traditional design software and formats like Gerber and Excellon. Our goal is to not introduce any difference to these traditional PCB designers at all. So, there they can stick to the design rules, and feel at home.

But additive manufacturing of electronics enables new things to be designed, manufactured and tested, and different workflows to be adopted. The type of design and the kind of potential that non-planar, non-Gerber electronics design introduces is something entirely new—things like coils or shaped electronics. There's some thinking that needs to be done around how to design it and how to optimize it for things like print speed, or print accuracy, or which direction you want to place the part on the print tray. So, on the design for additive manufacturing of non-planar parts there's more of a learning curve.

Feinberg: You are referring to those that you've sent out press releases about, but there are others that you can't talk about yet. We just know they're coming.

Fried: As you know, the system was launched officially back at productronica in November 2017. We have installed systems in places as far away as Sydney, Hong Kong, Singapore, France, Germany, and a few other locations which we've not yet specified. We have made announcements regarding some specific customers such as Safran in France who are using the system. Other customers, including some in the United States, we aren’t in a position to mention directly for non-disclosure reasons. In time, things will evolve and we’ll be able to mention other customers by name. We're also doing some interesting work together with Harris Corporation and Space Florida looking at RF applications for satellites.

Nano_Simon_image.jpgFeinberg: Well, this process is ideal for that. Do you mean for type three antenna?

Fried: Yes, our technology and materials certainly have interesting applications for antennas.

Feinberg: I remember looking at the 3D printed boards that we were shown at CES four years ago, and they look like pictures of circuit boards rather than real PCBs. These units we are looking at now look like the actual devices.

Fried: Right. I think that pretty much reflects things. The journey is one of very complex multidisciplinary integration. And, in the beginning it was very much about, "Can we get these two materials into one location?" And, then, "Do these materials have the right electrical properties?" And then, as you can see, the parts start to come together. Then you must have the right material and be able to assemble it.

Feinberg: Yes, this has come a long way. Well, one of the things I wrote a year or so ago was that I can see that almost any circuit board company—not just major ones—will continue to be print, etch, plate, etc., on most of their production for the foreseeable future, but I can see where they will eventually need 3D printing capability—one production line at least.

Fried: I think there's no question that a certain proportion of low-volume, high-mix type production—and I say production, not just prototyping—is certainly going to go this way. It's nothing that's going to happen in a massive way this year or next, but it will happen. If I look at the traction we have gained it's generally in areas such as defense and military, but opportunities for rapid adoption exist in many industries.

Feinberg: That is interesting.

Fried: What most of our customers are doing is time-compression of the R&D stage. It is speeding up prototyping. And, some are looking at new applications because there are design considerations that come with constraints that you can't meet with traditional manufacturing. So, we see a divergence where at this stage some users are turning to the 3D-printed PCBs to change work flows and speed up production, and others want to push the envelope further. There are certain things that appear simple but would be very hard to make without an additive manufacturing tool. We have folks come to us and say, "Now that you can do this 3D kind of work I need something that's basically just a small bracket, a connector, or an unusually shaped antenna and I don't need anything more complex than a few plus and a minus connections. I cannot make it in any other way so that it's going to fit in the space that I need to put things in." For now, if the volumes are not extremely high and the part is a good size for the printer then that's a discussion that must be considered for additive manufacturing because you can't make it any other way.

Those who get into it with an eye on the non-planar work, they have at the back of their mind the use of this as a manufacturing approach. So, it filters things. You know, you're not going to get people who come through the door saying, "I need to make five million of these." But, if you need to make few thousand over a longer period, maybe more than that, then this approach is possibly the only game in town.


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