Laser writing of 3D circuits wins big prize

A process that allows the direct writing of electrical circuits on 3D mouldings has just won its developers the Hermes Award 2010, which has a total purse of €100,000.

The process has been developed by LPKF Laser & Electronics and is called Laser Direct Structuring. It starts with moulding commercially available, doped, thermoplastic. A special additive is activated by a laser beam, producing metallic nuclei, which act as a catalyst for electroless copper plating. In addition to the activation, the laser creates a microscopically rough surface to ensure that the copper is firmly anchored during metallisation.

Deposited layers are typically built up 5 to 8µm thick, and may be followed by the electroless deposition of nickel and a flash gold layer. Main applications are the rapid prototyping or short run manufacture of 3D circuitry on and inside plastic mouldings for the automotive and mobile phone markets.

Track widths of =150 µm and gaps of =200 µm have proven ideal in practice, although thinner tracks and gaps are possible. A large range of resins are suitable for the process.

The award was made at the opening ceremony of this year's Hannover Fair on April 18th 2010 and was presented by Dr Annette Schavan, German Federal Minister for Education and Research. LKPF is itself based in Hannover.

Tom Shelley

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