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How 3D Printing Is Disrupting The $439 Billion Semiconductor Industry?

How 3D Printing Is Disrupting The $439 Billion Semiconductor Industry?

Is 3D printing a solution to enhance supply chain resilience for such a core component of the modern tech world?


Conventional semiconductor manufacturing processes limit designers in terms of interconnect architecture, planarity, and substrate shape. In contrast, 3D printed circuit boards are not limited by subtractive manufacturing limitations, saving semiconductor companies a lot of time, effort, and money, and providing designers with increased freedom to design circuit boards with sophisticated architecture and customised designs as required.

Working with a system that is designed for 3D printing circuit boards is an excellent way to complement an existing semiconductor manufacturing process for low-volume, high-complexity boards. The layer-by-layer printing process allows low-volume manufacturing runs of boards with the desired level of complexity, including non-planar circuit boards and high-value boards with very complex shapes.

Why 3D Print Components?

Wafer table thermal management

Better thermal management of critical semiconductor equipment components, such as wafer tables, can improve semiconductor equipment accuracy by 1–2 nm and simultaneously improve speed and throughput. An increased machine speed and uptime leads to more wafers processed and higher overall lifecycle value.

During lithography, keeping temperatures within milliKelvin (mK) ranges is critical as any system disturbance has an impact. Through design for additive manufacturing (DfAM), it’s possible to optimise internal cooling channels and surface patterns, thus dramatically improving surface temperatures and thermal gradients while reducing time constants. A large semiconductor capital equipment manufacturer using AM to produce their wafer tables realised an 83% decrease in ΔT (13.8 to 2.3 mK), and a 5-time reduction in time to wafer stabilisation.

Another benefit of using AM to produce wafer tables is structural optimisation and tables with reduced part counts and assemblies. Producing parts using traditional technologies relies on brazing to join parts together, which is a lengthy, low-yield process with a 50% rejection rate. Replacing multipart assemblies with monolithic additively manufactured parts increases reliability, improves manufacturing yield and reduces labor costs.

Semiconductor wafer table thermal management - 3D Systems

Semiconductor wafer table thermal management – 3D Systems

Manifold fluid flow optimisation 

Using traditional manufacturing processes to produce complex fluid manifolds results in large, heavy parts that have non-optimal fluid flow due to abrupt transitions between components, and channels with sharp angles that lead to disturbance, pressure drops, stagnant zones and leakage.

When AM is employed to produce these same manifolds, engineers can optimise their designs to reduce pressure drop, mechanical disturbances and vibration. A 90% reduction in flow-induced disturbance forces reduces system vibration and realises a 1–2 nm accuracy improvement.

Structural optimisation and advanced flexures

AM gives designers the flexibility to optimise the structural topology of your part (i.e. lightweighting) with a suite of high-strength metal alloys. These designs can more precisely meet the performance requirements of semiconductor capital equipment, improve the strength-to-weight ratio and deliver a faster time to market. Lightweighting semiconductor components and advanced motion mechanisms reduces inertia and improves lithography and wafer processing machine speed and uptime, leading to more wafers processed. In one example, a semiconductor capital equipment manufacturer was able to employ AM to achieve greater than 50% weight reduction in flexures, 23% higher resonant frequency and reduced system vibration.

A likely scenario is that AM will significantly enable newer machines that are either shipping today or will be shipping in the next 1-2 years. With this runway, there is ample time for component and system level redesigns, which will increase productivity and quality. Additionally, the manufacturers will still have enough control over those systems to rigorously test and prove performance gains. 

However, while opportunities are indeed emerging, it’s not necessarily a new market for additive nor 3D Systems. At the 3D printing pioneer’s Leuven office in Belgium, major semiconductor equipment manufacturers are said to have been leveraging its direct metal printing for well over a decade. What began as a “secret metal printer” used to print parts as a service has matured to what Scott Green, Principal Solutions Leader at 3D Systems described as “a couple of hundred” successful production projects.

“There’s maybe ten areas in semiconductor capital equipment where we’re contributing regularly,” says Green, citing opportunities in lithography, wafer handling and metrology. Green also pointed to examples of recent large-format EUV (Extreme ultraviolet lithography) machines which can contain well over 100,000 parts.

“The needs and challenges of the semiconductor fabrication industry today are directly aligned with what a direct metal solution offers,” Green tells TCT magazine. “They have challenges where, in order to really push the limits of physics, you’ve got to totally eliminate uncertainty and noise inside of a system and really optimise all the parts of handling, cooling, fluid distribution, light collimation. It’s a very complex machine.”

The design freedoms and part consolidation afforded by additive could offer a solution for parts like heat exchangers, gas manifolds and nozzles. Instead of having tens of components vibrating against each other in an assembly, you could potentially reduce the number of moving parts and links in your supply chain down to one.

VELO3D is working in collaboration with Lam Research Corp to develop new 3D printing materials and applications for the semiconductor space. (Image credit: VELO3D)

VELO3D is working in collaboration with Lam Research Corp to develop new 3D printing materials and applications for the semiconductor space. (Image credit: VELO3D)

The Challenges of AM Adoption Moving Forward

3D printing electronic components is not without its hangups, however. In an interview with TCT Magazine, VELO3D CEO Benny Buller explains that AM is best used for replacing existing parts—not redesigning a system altogether

“When you are doing legacy parts that you are already producing in one way and just want an identical replacement by additive, the barrier for qualification is much lower,” he said. “But when you start having to redesign the system or the assembly so that you can manufacture, well that’s not fine, because now you’re driving yourself into a lot of risk.”

Buller also notes that AM struggles to deliver the cleanliness and surface control one would find in the cleanroom of a traditional fab. At each layer of the semiconductor fabrication process, wafers are expected to be free of particles that are nanometers in size. This attention-to-detail cannot be replicated in an at-home or in-office 3D-printing environment.

When dealing with the precise chemistries, gases and temperatures expected by the semiconductor industry, those risks simply cannot be afforded. Those same complexities, however, Buller believes suit the capabilities of additive well.

“These are the classical problems additive manufacturing is really good at,” Buller explains. “Control of heat, control of flow, whether it’s flow in gases, form of chemicals, whether it’s forming liquid flow, these are the places where additive manufacturing is really powerful.”

One crucial area where AM does present a challenge, however, is cleanliness, a field Buller is familiar with having spent the early years of his career on the inspection side of the semiconductor space.

“Additive manufacturing, compared to some other manufacturing technologies, has struggled delivering this level of surface cleanliness and this level of surface control,” Buller says of the intense cleanliness levels required at each layer on the semiconductor fabrication process. “When we are doing gas turbines or jet engines, they also care about surface finish but we are talking literally orders of magnitude difference … [The semiconductor industry] cares about particles that are two nanometers in size. It’s a completely different level of cleanliness that they have to deal with.”

Current opportunities for AM lie primarily in semiconductor capital equipment. It’s “the ultimate high volume manufacturing technology” according to Buller, with billions of parts produced every month, but per a recent report in the Harvard Business Review, funding and building out a new semiconductor fab can take at least five years. AM could offer a solution.

“Additive manufacturing has a lot of value to this industry, both in the ability to make better processes and to make equipment that is capable of more uniform, more controllable processes, new ways to make things that were not possible before,” Buller says. “It allows for a more agile supply chain and it helps with shorter lead times.”

There are however also specific opportunities in semiconductor devices themselves as Valentin Storz, General Manager of EMEA at Nano Dimension told TCT. Nano Dimension, a manufacturer of additive electronics systems, known for its DragonFly LDM technology which simultaneously deposits a dielectric polymer and nano-silver for circuitry, is said to operate between the worlds of PCB and semiconductor integrated circuits.

Storz says: “The whole story about IoT, Industry 4.0; everything will have an IP address and communicate. That means every part will become at some place connected and needs some circuitry, some antenna in it and with parts getting smaller and having new form factors, that’s a place for us.”

New opportunities, Storz offers, are those in 3D stacking of chips on top of each other or heterogeneous integration where different components such as circuitry, RF components, optics and potentially even cooling channels are integrated into one package.

Throughout these conversations, Moore’s Law, the notion that the number of transistors on a microchip doubles about every two years, was a common thread. While the trend appears to be flattening in the semiconductor space, innovation continues apace as manufacturers strive to add more complexity to smaller chips and demand for new devices flourishes. It’s here, looking at that five-year roadmap towards next-generation semiconductor fabrication, better geometries and more uniform processes, where AM could find its sweet spot.

“Additive manufacturing allows [manufacturers] to innovate in directions that they couldn’t innovate before,” Buller concludes. “The moment this is demonstrated, that you can get to the cleanliness and you can get to the manufacturing quality that is required to support that, this will be a floodgate.”

Singapore’s First 3D Printed Artefact To Be Launched To The Moon

Singapore’s First 3D Printed Artefact To Be Launched To The Moon


Artist Lakshmi Mohanbabu and the NTU Singapore team led by Prof. Matteo Seita – Karl A Sofinowski, Jude E Fronda, Nair Adarsh R, Mallory Wittwer


The Moon Gallery Foundation is developing an art gallery to be sent to the Moon, contributing to the establishment of the first lunar outpost and permanent museum on Earth’s only natural satellite. The international initiative will see one hundred artworks from artists around the world integrated into a 10 cm x 10 cm x 1 cm grid tray, which will fly to the Moon by 2025. The Moon Gallery aims to expand humanity’s cultural dialogue beyond Earth. The gallery will meet the cosmos for the first time in low Earth orbit in 2022 in a test flight.

The test flight is in collaboration with Nanoracks, a private in-space service provider. The gallery is set to fly to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard the NG-17 rocket as part of a Northrop Grumman Cygnus resupply mission in February of 2022. The art projects featured in the gallery will reach the final frontier of human habitat in space, and mark the historical meeting point of the Moon Gallery and the cosmos. Reaching low Earth orbit on the way to the Moon is a pivotal first step in extending our cultural dialogue to space. 

On its return flight, the Moon Gallery will become a part of the NanoLab technical payload, a module for space research experiments. The character of the gallery will offer a diverse range of materials and behaviours for camera observations and performance tests with NanoLab.

In return, Moon Gallery artists will get a chance to learn about the performance of their artworks in space. The result of these observations will serve as a solid basis for the subsequent Moon Gallery missions and a source of a valuable learning experience for future space artists. The test flight to the ISS is a precursor mission, contributing to the understanding of future possibilities for art in space and strengthening collaboration between the art and space sectors.


Our every perception, analysis, and thought reflect the influences from our surroundings and the Universe in a world of collaboration, communication and interaction, making it possible to explore the real, the imagined and the unknown. The ‘Structure and Reflectance’ cube, a marriage of Art and Technology, is one of the hundred artworks selected by the Moon Gallery, with a unifying message of an integrated world, making it a quintessential signature of humankind on the Moon.

Ms Lakshmi Mohanbabu, a Singaporean architect and designer, is the first and only local artist to have her artwork selected for the Moon Gallery. Coined the ‘Structure and Reflectance’ cube, Lakshmi’s art is a marriage of Art and Technology and is one of the hundred artworks selected by the Moon Gallery. The cube signifies a unifying message of an integrated world, making it a quintessential signature of humankind on the Moon.

The ‘Structure and Reflectance’ Cube pictured with Dr Matteo Seita and Lakshmi Mohanbabu Photo credit: Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore)

The ‘Structure and Reflectance’ Cube pictured with Dr Matteo Seita and Lakshmi Mohanbabu
Photo credit: Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore)

The early-stage prototyping and design iterations of the ‘Structure and Reflectance’ cube were performed with Additive Manufacturing, otherwise known as 3D printing, at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore’s (NTU Singapore) Singapore Centre for 3D Printing (SC3DP). This was part of a collaborative project supported by the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Cluster (NAMIC), a national programme office which accelerates the adoption and commercialisation of additive manufacturing technologies. Previously, the NTU Singapore team at SC3DP produced a few iterations of Moon-Cube using metal 3D printing in various materials such as Inconel and Stainless Steel to evaluate the best suited material.

The newest iteration of the cube comprises crystals—ingrained in the cube via additive manufacturing technology— revealed to the naked eye by the microscopic differences in their surface roughness, which reflect light along different directions.

“Additive Manufacturing is suitable for enabling this level of control over the crystal structure of solids. More specifically, the work was created using ‘laser powder bed fusion technology’ a metal additive manufacturing process which allows us to control the surface roughness through varying the laser parameter,” said Dr Matteo Seita, Nanyang Assistant Professor, NTU Singapore, is the Principal Investigator overseeing the project for the current cube design.  

Dr Seita shared the meaning behind the materials used, “Like people, materials have a complex ‘structure’ resulting from their history—the sequence of processes that have shaped their constituent parts—which underpins their differences. Masked by an exterior façade, this structure often reveals little of the underlying quality in materials or people. The cube is a material representation of a human’s complex structure embodied in a block of metal consisting of two crystals with distinct reflectivity and complementary shape.”

Ms Lakshmi added, “The optical contrast on the cube surface from the crystals generates an intricate geometry which signifies the duality of man: the complexity of hidden thought and expressed emotion. This duality is reflected by the surface of the Moon where one side remains in plain sight, while the other has remained hidden to humankind for centuries; until space travel finally allowed humanity to gaze upon it. The bright portion of the visible side of the Moon is dependent on the Moon’s position relative to the Earth and the Sun. Thus, what we see is a function of our viewpoint.”

The hidden structure of materials, people, and the Moon are visualized as reflections of light through art and science in this cube. Expressed in the Structure & Reflectance cube is the concept of human’s duality—represented by two crystals with different reflectance—which appears to the observer as a function of their perspective.

Dr Ho Chaw Sing, Co-Founder and Managing Director of NAMIC said, “Space is humanity’s next frontier. Being the only Singaporean – among a selected few from the global community – Lakshmi’s 3D printed cube presents a unique perspective through the fusion of art and technology. We are proud to have played a small role supporting her in this ‘moon-shot’ initiative.”

Lakshmi views each artwork as a portrayal of humanity’s quests to discover the secrets of the Universe and—fused into a single cube—embody the unity of humankind, which transcends our differences in culture, religion, and social status.

The first cube face, the Primary, is divided into two triangles and depicts the two faces of the Moon, one visible to us from the earth and the other hidden from our view.



The second cube face, the Windmill, has two spiralling windmill forms, one clockwise and the other counter-clockwise, representing our existence, energy, and time.



The third cube face, the Dromenon, is a labyrinth form of nested squares, which represents the layers that we—as space explorers—are unravelling to discover the enigma of the Universe.



The fourth cube face, the Nautilus, reflects the spiralling form of our DNA that makes each of us unique, a shape reflected in the form of our galaxy.


FINAL CUBE – 0.98cmX0.98cmX0.98cm

Supported by: NRF, NTU Singapore, NTUitive, NAMIC
The ‘Structure and Reflectance’ Cube Project Team:
The project team comprises of NTU Singapore researchers: Dr Matteo Seita (Principal Investigator), Karl Sofinowski, Nair Adarsh Ravikumaran, Mallory Wittwer and Jude Fronda.

Upcoming Next: 3D Printing In 2022: Micro-Trends In Major Materials

An Ecosystem Approach To Drive AM Adoption In Maritime & Offshore

An Ecosystem Approach To Drive AM Adoption In Maritime & Offshore

Additive Manufacturing (AM) has seen a surge in interest in recent years in the mobile asset industry, notably the aerospace, automotive, and defence. The Marine and Offshore (M&O) on the other hand, has seen a slower adoption rate in AM. This can be attributed to several reasons.

In the aerospace industry, owing to stringent safety requirements there are much fewer aircraft Equipment Manufacturers, with Airbus and Boeing dominating close to 99% of the commercial aircraft design market share. Similarly, for engine makers, General Electric, Pratt & Whitney, Rolls-Royce, and CFM International contribute to the bulk of the engines used in the market, similarly controlling the aftermarket of parts and services. With large industry verticals providing aftersales of spare parts and the stringent certification of the industry, owners of the aircraft operators have limited options to turn to when it comes to replacing spares. Regardless, aircraft owners generally demand original parts over alternative supply options. However, in the M&O sector, there are over 10 large shipbuilder groups (e.g. Imabari Shipbuilding, Samsung, Yangzijiang Shipbuilding, CSIC, CSSC, Oshima Shipbuilding, Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering, Japan Marine United, and Fincantieri just to name a few) and hundreds other smaller shipbuilders of different tonnage internationally. As for the marine engine and propulsion maker groups, there are over 10 of them (e.g. Rolls-Royce, Caterpillar, Wärtsilä, Cummins, Hyundai, Honda, Mitsubishi, MAN, and Yanmar, etc.). It is hence easy to understand why there is more parts variability within a ship when compared to an aircraft or a car. This explains why M&O has many suppliers for marine spare parts, some with overlapping products, with any parts being supplied by tens of spare manufacturers. For AM to be adopted, original manufacturers will need to get onboard to license their parts to be printed at distributed service bureaus. It is easier to convince a handful of original manufacturers, which are responsible for supplying most of the spare parts in aviation rather than hundreds of original manufacturers for the M&O industry.

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3D Metal Printing In The Medical Industry

3D Metal Printing In The Medical Industry

Fast manufacturing and high precision of medical implants are crucial. Metallic additive manufacturing is opening new possibilities for medical and dental application. Article by CADS Additive GmbH.

The medical and dental industry face complex challenges. Fast manufacturing and high precision of medical implants are crucial.

First and foremost, the manufacturing of these implants requires a multitude of preparation and process steps, starting from capturing of patient-specific data using imaging techniques, through creation of implant geometries and their preparation for 3D metal printing, up to post-processing and finishing. New technologies and innovation drive these industries but also the companies themselves. Different demands call for different approaches and solutions.

Here, metallic additive manufacturing opens new possibilities for medical and dental application as well as for partners and suppliers of these industries. Nevertheless, one has to create and manage a large amount of data and map these as efficiently as possible through the whole process. To be successful, efficient data preparation for metal 3D printing is fundamental.

Software for Medical and Dental Technology

Founded as a Joint Venture in 2016, CADS Additive GmbH today is a fully owned subsidiary of the company CADS GmbH, both based in Perg, Austria. CADS Additive stands for developing outstanding software components and intuitive software solutions for 3D metal printing. As a manufacturer of high-performance data preparation and data management software solutions, CADS Additive is an innovative and competent partner in the field of industrial metallic additive manufacturing worldwide.

With the knowledge and expertise in developing intuitive software for medical as well as dental technology, they work with various companies to problem solve and deal with challenges, as well as find new opportunities within the industry.

“Our high-performance software solutions and components are game-changing for their decision on 3D metal printing software. What is further crucial for their 3D printing success,” Daniel Plos, Sales Director at CADS Additive, continues.For other exclusive articles, visit

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Additive Manufacturing Standards For Medical Production

Additive Manufacturing Standards For Medical Production

Dedicated standards for medical devices produced using Additive Manufacturing are already in preparation. Gregor Reischle, Head of Additive Manufacturing at TÜV SÜD highlights the importance of additive manufacturing standards for medical devices and what manufacturers need to consider before they start. 

Gregor Reischle

Dedicated standards for medical devices produced using Additive Manufacturing are already in preparation. In future, they will smooth the path for the implementation of new technologies as well as their assessment for approval. In this interview with Asia Pacific Metalworking Equipment News (APMEN), Gregor Reischle, Head of Additive Manufacturing at testing, inspection and certification services provider TÜV SÜD, shares what aspects need to be considered against this backdrop.

Why do we need standards to help us use AM technology for medical production?

Gregor Reischle (GR): Items that are already produced using Additive Manufacturing, such as protective face coverings, masks and visors or products for radiation treatment, are subject to particularly rigorous conformity and safety standards. However, assessment procedures for approval of these products take time – and time is of the essence in a pandemic. Standards help to ensure regulatory requirements are implemented reliably, promptly and cost-effectively, thus minimising risks. They also represent state-of-the-art solutions and serve to concentrate specific knowledge.

There are still no Additive Manufacturing standards designed specifically for medical devices. Where can manufacturers seek guidance in the meantime?

GR: We have drawn up checklists for all the most important requirements in the main standards and regulations relating to Additive Manufacturing, covering those that set out more general terms as well as the first more specific requirements. We are currently providing the checklists free of charge International standard organisations such as ASTM International and ISO are likewise providing access to relevant standards free of charge at the moment, for items such as personal protective equipment and medical devices. This benefits testing laboratories, healthcare specialists and the general public.

How widespread are 3D-printed medical devices?

GR: Conventionally manufactured products still make up the majority. Anyone using 3D printing today is pursuing strategic aims and is willing to invest a lot of time in such products. Additive manufacturing is only widespread in specific areas of medical engineering, like prosthetics and dental technology. In fact, probably all the major manufacturers in the dental industry now supply 3D printers, some of which can even be used in medical practices. 

What changes will the MDR introduce in this respect compared to its predecessor, the MDD?

GR: Under the Medical Device Directive (MDD), these “custom-made products” can be used without the need for CE marking. Although the same will apply under the Medical Device Regulation (MDR), manufacturers of class III implantable custom products will now need to call in a Notified Body to perform conformity assessment of their quality management system. Many products will fall into a higher class under the MDR, and this may require the involvement of a Notified Body in some cases. Custom-made products will be replaced by a common basic model which is customised for patient-specific use.

How will upcoming standards support the requirements to fulfil regulatory requirements such as MDR conformity? And which existing standards could already be useful?

GR: The requirements of the MDR state that a Notified Body must assess the manufacturer’s quality management system and verify compliance of its processes with the state of the art. DIN SPEC 17071—the specification for requirements concerning quality-assured processes at additive manufacturing centres—can usefully be applied here. The guideline is aimed at minimising risks stemming from parts and components produced using Additive Manufacturing, irrespective of the industry or sector. A project to transfer these findings to medical engineering is already under way, and a white paper on the subject will be published very soon. The DIN SPEC 17071 will also be advanced to reach the international ISO/ASTM level; the upcoming ISO 52920 and 52930 represent state-of-the-art quality assurance for AM production.

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Integrating 3D Printing In Orthopaedic Implants Manufacturing

Integrating 3D Printing In Orthopaedic Implants Manufacturing

Matt Smith, New Technologies and Process Engineer at Corin Group shares how the company has integrated 3D printing into its orthopaedic implants production. Article by Markforged. 

The human body is all different shapes and sizes so for companies who specialise in making implants, streamlining the process for handling variants is important. 

Being involved in implementing new technology and creating new processes at the same time is an exciting role for any engineer. Ask Matt Smith, New Technologies and Process Engineer at Corin Group—an orthopaedic medical device manufacturer in the UK, who is well underway with his additive manufacturing programme. Matt began his project in early 2020 with a printer justification based on several new product introductions. 

Manufacturing Challenges

Matt and the team set about the task of introducing a new ‘stem’ and ‘femur’ and decided to see what new technology was available to help them do it in a timely manner. Each time a new product is introduced to manufacturing there are a large number of associated fixtures that come with it. Being able to make these in house was a clear benefit and offered some very reasonable cost savings, so it was the obvious place to start. 

“We decided that we needed to look at additive as a means of helping us be more agile when introducing new products. We believed there were many areas where we’d benefit, however as we progressed with the project, and more colleagues got involved, we began to realise the huge potential we had,” said Matt.

As the project was getting underway the world fell victim to the COVID-19 pandemic and almost overnight facilities closed, including many of the supply chain at Corin Group. Matt and the team were faced with the almost impossible task of ensuring their new project was still delivered on time, whilst having to work with no raw materials, no sub-contract manufacturing and limited internal resources. As they sat and mused over the creation of all the machining and inspection fixtures required, for the 48 variants of their new stem, and 24 variants of femur they quickly identified a new challenge, their raw material deliveries of forgings and castings would also be delayed. Without the raw material it would be impossible to even test the developed fixturing. 

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