Is Squink a 3D Printer, or Something More?

New Technologies, New Nomenclatures

BotFactory Inc., JF Brandon

Before 3D Printing took off, "3D Printing" was actually a subset of what was technically known as Additive Manufacturing or Rapid Prototyping. ZCorp's method of inkjet printing binder onto powder was often called 3D Printing, while 3D Systems's Stereolithography (SLA) was something different. In the end, they had the same process and purpose - it was Manufacturing in an additive manner and it was best used for prototyping a product rapidly. 3D Printing, as a word, caught on in the public imagination that lots of advanced manufacturing is called 3D printing, even if it isn't.

BotFactory's vision is to bring the PCB Electronics Factory to your desktop, allowing you to prototype and manufacture at anytime for a low cost. Additive manufacturing became the ideal way forward, or rather, a component of the solution. We do print layers of conductive and insulating ink, and in a manner wholly additive. So to say Squink is an electronics 3D printer, or perhaps a Circuit 3D printer, this is correct. But it's not the whole story.

Interconnects are only one portion of the PCB. They are the most visible and on the surface, people consider it THE PCB. Of course it's not, as the components and attaching them is the other hidden half of the story. There remains virtually no way to print a chip, as in, directly print a reliable, commercially-viable microprocessor. Silicon chips are made of wafers that are etched, with patterns made using printing technologies. But as we are asked again and again, we don't 3D print the chips and the components (although you can use the natural properties of some inks, including ours, to make resistors and capacitors). What Squink can do is pick-and-place them, and use a dispensing head to place the glue to make sure they are connected to the traces. This functionality is what separates us from 3D Printers - actually makes us more advanced than them.

True factories don't just fab the whole part - they also assemble them. It's not possible for a 3D Printer to assemble the parts - but it is for Squink. Utilizing a Vacuum system, Computer Vision, a Dispensing system and an XYZ gantry, Squink is capable of dispensing solder and pick-and-placing parts and chips and doing all of the same processes seen in giant, PCB factories in China and beyond. All in a package that is only a little more than a cubic foot. We can print the layers, as any 3D Printer, but we go beyond 3D Printing and provide assembly, putting BotFactory in a position that no one else has really trend: fully automated fabrication. 

Some people call Squink a 3D Printer. We're a bit beyond that!