3D Printing: A Solution to Obsolete Electronic Components?

Managing end-of-life and obsolete components is a constant and growing challenge for the electronics industry. However, the emergence of 3D printing technology offers a potential solution that some are exploring as a new method to manage obsolescence.

A Brief History of 3D Printing

Dating back to the 1980s, 3D printing was invented by Dr. Hideo Kodama when the first rapid prototyping systems were developed. Since then, this technology has rapidly advanced, allowing for the creation of complex three-dimensional objects with precision and efficiency. Initially used for prototyping, 3D printing has become a viable method for manufacturing a wide range of applications such as prototyping, construction, home hobbyists, and electronic parts.

3D Printing Electronic Components

A significant breakthrough in this field occurred at Duke University, where researchers successfully 3D printed a recyclable integrated circuit (IC using a combination of conductive and insulating materials. “Silicon-based computer components are probably never going away, and we don’t expect easily recyclable electronics like ours to replace the technology and devices what are already widely used,” said Aaron Franklin, the Addy Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Duke. “But we hope that by creating new, fully recyclable, easily printed electronics and showing what they can do, that they might become widely used in future applications.”

According to Transparency Market Research, the market for 3D printed electronics is projected to experience remarkable growth. By 2031, the market revenue is expected to surpass US $6 billion, exhibiting a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 31.26% from 2021 to 2031. This growth reflects the increasing recognition of the value and potential of 3D printing in the electronics industry. While Duke University is focused on recyclable components, the question remains on 3D printing being used to support obsolete components.

Benefits of 3D Printing Obsolete Components

3D printing obsolete parts has the potential to allow for more flexibility and resilience. It can enable the production of customized components, allowing for unique designs and adaptations to fit specific requirements. This level of customization is particularly beneficial when sourcing end-of-life or obsolete components that are no longer available through traditional supply chains. Another benefit is that 3D printing offers reduced lead times, enabling quick production and deployment of replacement parts. This agility is crucial in industries where downtime due to component obsolescence can result in significant financial losses.

Is It a Realistic Option?

While 3D printing offers promising solutions, several key challenges are preventing it from being a viable option for managing obsolescence. Compatibility, design complexities, and electrical performance are all main concerns when considering 3D printing as an option. Many components require specific materials with precise electrical conductivity, thermal properties, and mechanical strength. Not to mention the intricate designs, tolerances, and surface finishes. Meeting these requirements is a current limitation of 3D printing that is essential to the success of component production.

Then there are intellectual property and licensing considerations. Patents or trademarks may protect many components from manufacturers which could restrict their reproduction using 3D printing technology.

Lastly, while 3D printing can be a cost-effective solution for producing small quantities, it may not always be financially viable for large-scale production. The cost of 3D printing materials, equipment, and post-processing can be higher than traditional sourcing options.

Take a Three-Dimensional Approach to Obsolescence Management

Even though 3D printing obsolete components may still be a distant reality, taking a three-dimensional approach to managing obsolescence is still a way to ensure you have a resilient supply chain. Working with a strategic supply chain partner, like Converge, offers you three key pillars to supply chain solutions: risk management, performance, and optimization. Converge’s Future of Obsolescence Management provide the market data, analysis, and relationships needed to source the critical, quality, post-end-of-life parts you need to keep production running.

Learn more about the Future of Obsolescence Management and find the critical components for your supply chain. 

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