Adding wiring to your product, whether you are making a fighter plane or a fridge, has been done in much the same way for the last 100 years. The wiring is laid up by hand on a pin-board and then pulled through holes in the structure of the product, again by hand. It is one of the last parts of the mass-manufacturing process to hold out against automation.
In this blog we are going to explain the 5 easy steps to automating the addition of electrical functionality to a product using Q5D’s robotic tools. To demonstrate how it all works, here’s one that I made earlier: an electric drill.
Step 1 – Find a Product
Although Q5D uses fused filament additive manufacturing, this is far too slow and expensive to compete with more conventional mass-manufacturing methods. For most applications, the starting point should be a moulded part, composite panel, sheet metal part or whatever process is best suited to the problem you have at hand.
Step 2 – Printed Electronics
For low power or data applications, copper wire is overkill – printed electronics are lighter and take up a lot of less space, making it possible to have much more complex wiring in a much tighter space.
At Q5D we use a particular kind of printed electronics that use a laser to sinter the printed paste into something approaching the original material properties, typically copper or silver. This means that the conductivity is excellent, much better than normal printed inks/pastes. Because we use a 5-axis platform, these tracks can be laid onto whatever complex shape you can dream up.
Step 3 – Add Wire
Although printed electronics are highly versatile, when it comes to power electronics they are not up to the job, even when using sintered tracks. Sometimes only a good old-fashioned copper wire will do, either bare or pre-insulated. In some sectors like automotive or aerospace, the choice of conductor is proscribed by complex safety regulations, so there is little choice but to use wire which conforms to these standards.
Q5D’s technology can add pre-terminated wires or make use of IDC (insulation displacement) connectors to terminate the wires without crimping.
Strangely, when an engineer is specifying the wiring for a product, often the selection criteria is less about its current carrying capacity and more about making sure that it is sufficiently robust to survive the installation process. With Q5D technology you can choose the optimum gauge for the job based solely on its electrical requirements, reducing cost and weight of both the wire and its terminations.
Step 4 – Over-Moulding
Q5D’s robot is also able to add polymer. Fused filament additive manufacturing has been around for a while, but Q5D’s 5-axis platform makes it possible to print insulation or structural polymers in any plane or on any complex curved surface.
Primarily this means you can protect the conductors from mechanical or chemical damage. Most in-service wiring failures are caused either by humidity or heat embrittling the insulation or by wires fretting against each other or another component. Over time this kind of damage can cause faults or even fires.
Q5D’s additive manufacturing head makes it possible to create complex 3D wiring structures, by having multiple layers of wire or printed conductor and insulation.
Step 5 – Adding all the other stuff
There is no point in doing all the other clever stuff like adding wire and conductors with a robot then getting a technician to manually assemble all the surface mounted components, motors, PCB boards and switches etc. Q5D’s tool uses a pick and place head to add all the other bits and pieces that you need to make a fully working product.
So now you know the 5 easy steps for automating the addition of wiring to your product using Q5D’s technology.
Not only does this mean improved quality and even product safety, in a world where we are seeing the fusion of information technology into pretty much everything, it makes it possible to increase the complexity of the wiring in your product without increasing cost or weight.
A technology like this makes you leaner and more responsive, no longer do you need to keep a warehouse of spares, all you need is a CAD file and one of Q5D machines and you can make everything you need to order.
The last thought I would like to leave you with is about supply chains. One thing we have all learnt over the last few years is just how fragile supply chains can be. Whether this is caused by a pandemic, tsunami, trade conflict or just a boat getting stuck sideways in a canal, being reliant on distant suppliers is a risk to your business. Taking control of your own manufacturing or at least making things close to your customers is the smart thing to do especially if you can do it without increasing your costs.