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Room Temperature Metal 3D Printing Technology


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Electrochemical Additive Manufacturing (ECAM) is a room-temperature metal 3D printing technology that produces complex, dense metal parts without heat treatment. Electrochemical additive manufacturing by Fabric8Labs, an American startup, has recently emerged as a differentiating technology for high-resolution metal additive manufacturing. In contrast to other 3D printing, electrochemical additive manufacturing does not use powdered raw materials, nor does it use heat treatment. Instead, the technology is built at the atomic level using a room-temperature water-based feedstock containing dissolved metal ions.

 In addition, this material is derived from a long-term and robust supply chain, widely available and low-cost metal salts. Fabric8Labs says: "The electrochemical approach enables micron-scale feature resolution, complex internal features, high-purity materials, and fast scalability to support large-scale manufacturing. We are committed to broadening the metal additive manufacturing market by providing advanced manufacturing services that replace traditional manufacturing."

The electrochemical additive manufacturing printing process is more similar to stereolithography (SLA) or digital light processing (DLA) printing processes for polymers than to existing metal additive manufacturing processes, such as laser powder bed melting or adhesive spraying. The water-based electrochemical additive manufacturing feedstock has low viscosity and is kept at room temperature, allowing hundreds of printers to be serviced by a common bulk library via standard pipe assemblies, greatly simplifying the management of raw material inputs. In addition, powderless feedstocks offer significant advantages in manufacturing complex, high-resolution liquid-cooled products where it is difficult or even impossible to remove the powder.

Potential application prospects of electrochemical additive manufacturing

The room temperature process of electrochemical additive manufacturing allows printing directly on a variety of substrates, including copper or foils, printed circuit boards (PCBS), ceramics and silicon. In a common example, electrochemical additive manufacturing is used to add high-resolution cooling capabilities to pre-machined copper substrates to produce advanced liquid cold plates for data center cooling.

Other examples include power modules and high-frequency RF devices that use ceramic and PCB substrates, respectively. This hybrid manufacturing method, which combines additive manufacturing with traditional manufacturing, greatly improves the scalability of the technology, as only high-value and complex features require 3D printing.

The high-capacity scalability of electrochemical additive manufacturing has attracted significant funding from venture capital, with Fabric8Labs' total capital investment exceeding $73 million (about 524 million yuan). The company used a recently closed Series B funding round to build a pilot production facility in San Diego, California.

Electrochemical additive manufacturing is well suited to serve applications in the electronics value chain. Early products delivered from the plant include high-performance thermal management equipment, such as liquid cold plates, as well as high-frequency RF components, including antennas and filters. With the ability to produce millions or even billions of parts per year, the technology has the potential to become a widely used manufacturing technique.

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