Metal 3D Printing Using Electrochemical Additive Manufacturing, Revolutionizing the Electronics Industry

I. Winfield, T. Ouradnik, M. Matthews
United States

Keywords: metal 3D printing, ECAM, additive manufacturing, electronic components, thermal management, cold plates, RF antennas


Additive Manufacturing (AM), commonly known as 3D printing, has undergone a significant surge in adoption over the last decade due to technological maturity and the imperative to bolster and diversify supply chains. This paper offers an overview of AM technologies, with a specific focus on the emergence of electrochemical additive manufacturing (ECAM) as an innovative and promising approach. In contrast to conventional metal-based AM methods, ECAM utilizes a water-based feedstock comprised of cost-effective metal salts, akin to electroplating chemistries employed in semiconductor manufacturing. A pivotal advancement in ECAM is its micro-electrode array printhead, consisting of millions of individually addressable pixels on a micron-scale. This breakthrough facilitates the manufacturing of components at the atomic level, providing micron-scale feature resolution, intricate internal structures, high-purity materials, and scalable mass production capabilities. ECAM's distinctive attributes position it as a transformative solution, particularly in addressing challenges related to thermal management, power density, advanced wireless communications components, device form factor, and sustainability within the electronics industry. ECAM's versatility is underscored by its application across various industries, including consumer electronics, aerospace, and medical devices. Significantly, ECAM demonstrates remarkable performance in the realm of power electronics, where it substantially enhances thermal resistance by 60-85% through the direct printing of copper cooling structures onto ceramic substrates. This eliminates the need for thermal interface materials (TIM) or copper base plates, potentially leading to improved device performance, reliability, and package size. Further optimization of copper fin structures in ECAM yields additional thermal gains ranging from 26-37%, showcasing the potential for overall improvements in the range of 60-120% in ECAM-enabled thermal management devices. In this paper we will discuss the ECAM printing method and highlight the advantages that this novel technology brings to various applications mentioned. The paper concludes by presenting illustrative examples of ECAM-produced liquid cooling products and high-frequency RF components, demonstrating its applicability in diverse areas such as data centers, high-performance edge computing, electric vehicles, telecommunications systems, wearables, and more. The unique capabilities of ECAM extend to producing high-resolution, low surface roughness components made of pure copper, in both free-standing and direct-write to substrate formats. Notably, ECAM's room temperature printing process enables direct deposition onto a wide range of substrate materials, including PCBs, flexible circuits, silicon, and ceramics. In summary, this paper elucidates the novel 3D printing method of ECAM and delineates its advantages, particularly in revolutionizing thermal management solutions across a spectrum of electronic applications. With a comprehensive exploration of ECAM's capabilities, the potential for widespread adoption and transformative impacts in the electronics industry is evident, paving the way for future advancements in AM technologies.