3D printing of electronics can change product data management

3D printing of electronics can change product data management


3D printing is changing the way we can manufacturing products. Which potentially means changes in how companies are going to manage product development processes. While it is still unclear how it may happen, I wonder if 3D printing can also change the way we manage data about product.

Forget about 3D printing as a way to make plastic covers for mobile devices and furniture for dolls. Medium article – 3D Printed Electronics Have Arrived speaks about very interesting innovation in 3D printing – Voxel8 printer capable to produce a complete electronic device as a single piece. Here is a high level explanation about printing process:

The printer uses a modular design to print both circuitry and plastic parts. One printer head extrudes PLA plastic, building the bulk of the object, while another head prints out circuitry using a very conductive ink. As the printing process goes along, the printer automatically pauses (thanks to some nifty software from Autodesk) to allow the designer to insert electrical components like motors and resistors into the print. Once the component is placed, the printer automagically resumes printing where it left off. 

What future scenario you can think about? The following passage is proposing “printing phones in store” as an option:

This printer is important because this is your future. Eventually the price for circuit-printing printers will come down, and we will see electronics shops that print phones in the store, rather than buying them from a 3rd world sweat shop. I expect that within a decade average users may even be able to customize the shape and color of their phone to their liking.


The story made me think about how a new 3D printing approach can influence the way we are managing data about products. Currently, the design is done separately for electronics and mechanical parts. Think about PCB design, electrical components and plastic body. You have data managed separate in these systems. Then you have to bring all elements of product together to create an engineering and manufacturing bill of materials. The new approach can change some fundamental principles companies are managing data today. It is hard to say how it will work, but my hunch that composed bill of material should be available at much earlier stage. It might influence the integration of design and assembly tools.

What is my conclusion? Changing paradigms. This is probably the easiest way to describe a potential change that devices like Voxel8 can bring. It can change product data management fundamentals by requiring to manage product structure differently. It can potentially change processes between engineering and manufacturing as well. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

A CT scan of a 3D Printed drone (courtesy: Voxel8)


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  • Pramod Bs

    Hey Oleg,

    Very interesting article indeed. i would love to see that happening at the mobile stores.

    although i’m a little bit skeptical about the impact on PDM.

    Even today the PDM systems have to manage all kind of product information originating from mechanical or electrical or electronic design systems. The interface has to decipher the design details and translate this into PDM format of tables and rows (eBOM).

    So i would assume that the product structures in PDM already maintains this kind of complex details. Nevertheless this is from an engineering point of view. From manufacturing POV, i would expect a much bigger impact especially during the handover and MBOM generation.


  • beyondplm

    Pramod, Thanks for your comment! you are right – engineering BOM can be similar to what people are using now. However, in many situations companies are using different PDMs with mechanical CAD and electronic / PCB. Obviously, everything should get together for manufacturing. This is another place where PLM and ERP systems are in some sort of fight for MBOM.

  • I think we are gradually realizing that maintaining individual
    BOMs throughout most of the design and hope that they will mesh perfectly
    during integration testing, ECO cycles and manufacturing is increasingly challenging.
    I think that the problem is influenced by too early decomposition of functional
    requirements into hardware, software, mechanical, etc. Ideally, we should be
    using a unified BOM throughout, in which “materials” are not limited to
    physical objects.

  • beyondplm

    Joe, thanks for sharing your insight! You made me think back about multiple dimensions of BOM complexity. You can check my earlier blog and slide below.


    Best, Oleg