3D printers are well on their way to eventually creating perfect replicas of almost any object we can imagine, as long as they don't rely on any electronics inside to function. But devices like the new Voltera, a printer that churns out prototypes of complex dual-layer circuit boards, is a sign that this won't always be the case.
In its current form the Voltera allows inventors, hobbyists, and tinkerers to produce prototype circuit boards right in their workshops that don't look like a rat's nest of tiny wires. Using a print head full of conductive ink, the Voltera recreates the various circuit traces from a schematic that are required to connect chips and other hardware components together. There's still some detailed work left on the circuit boards once the machine has done its job, but it means the prototypes are cleaner and easier to integrate into other hardware.
There are a lot of companies that can churn out professional-looking prototyped circuit boards, but the turnaround time is days instead of hours because the boards need to be shipped to you once they're made. If countless revisions are required to perfect the design of a particular circuit board, those days can quickly add up to lengthy delays. With the Voltera, a revised prototyped board can be churned out in just hours.
And while the Voltera isn't the first circuit board printer to hit Kickstarter, it certainly looks like one of the more advanced and fully-featured solutions to home prototyping. For more complex circuits that feature a dual-layer design, the print head full of conductive ink can be easily swapped for one full of an insulating material once the first layer has been printed. The Voltera will then automatically lay down a protective mask wherever two traces will overlap, before proceeding to print the second layer with the conductive ink again.
The Voltera can even be used to precisely dispense and reflow solder on existing boards requiring additional chips, saving you from having to painstakingly lay down the solder by hand. There are still other steps needed once a prototyped circuit has been printed, but as these types of machines improve over time, there's no reason to believe that one day 3D printers will also be able to churn out the electronics needed to bring a device to life.
To reserve one of the earliest Voltera machines to roll off the assembly line come January of next year, you'll need to pre-order with a donation of $US1500 to its Kickstarter campaign. So as far as pricing is concerned, the Voltera isn't positioned as a tool for someone looking to learn or dabble in electronics. But for amateur inventors hoping to perfect their creations, it promises to vastly reduce the turnaround time between prototyped circuit boards, and make it faster and potentially cheaper to get a new product into consumer's hands. [Kickstarter - Voltera]