July 20

What Happens When You Combine 3D Printing and IoT?

You can build a powerful business operation with 3D printing and IoT. It can give your business a huge competitive edge over competitors who resist change. Here are ways your business can benefit from smart 3D printing.

Combining Disruptive Technologies

The combination of disruptive technologies can be the key to a market boom. IoT technology encompasses sensors that receive and transmit data to a server or database in real time. IoT gives a business a wealth of information, usually to analyze internal or external processes. Meanwhile, 3D printing is disruptive because it can generate prototypes and short-run products quickly with zero waste.

Just as combining a computer with the internet was a revolution based on disruptive technologies, combining 3D printing and IoT opens the door to greater efficiency and productivity for a business.

IoT Data Collection Facilitates Customization

Fresh data keeps manufacturers updated on many areas of production, as well as consumer demand. IoT devices can help detect emerging trends in consumer purchasing behavior, which can be useful information for developers to refine products. Data also contributes to customization projects, allowing for specialized models that reflect market segments.

One of the primary advantages of a 3D printer is that it can generate detailed customized products quickly. The product design originates in a computer-assisted design (CAD) software program such as AutoCAD. The software allows for easy editing, making it practical to produce several different versions of a prototype or product.

Designing IoT Devices with 3D Printers

An IoT device includes an interface for human interaction, such as a touch screen or keypad. These controllers are categorized as commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) components and can be added to an IoT device. An IoT device also contains sensors that interact with the environment to collect data. In that sense, IoT devices blend analog with digital elements.

The circuits and components used in IoT devices can be manufactured with 3D print machines. Printing sensors directly on circuit boards is a more efficient process than etching and plating by hand. The 3D printing process is more accurate and takes less time to add COTS components to IoT devices.

An example of a useful customized design that can be made with a 3D printer is a custom antenna for a wireless communications system. Antennas can be designed to optimize signal strength of a specific application based on analysis of IoT data.

Manufacturing designs can be printed from an additive system of integrated 3D printing and IoT sensors to improve the production process. At the moment, this technological mix is emerging and evolving for enhancing low-volume 3D printing.

3d printing

Watch the replay of "Made to Order" to learn about the latest trends, challenges, predictions, tips and more, surrounding 3D printing technology.

3D Printing via Wireless Communication

Much of modern technology is being integrated with wireless communication technology, partly for security reasons. Products with embedded RF chips can be tracked to pinpoint their geolocation. A 3D printer can print an active or passive antenna directly on the substrate of a printed circuit board (PCB). This manufacturing process is efficient for LAN, WLAN, SD-WAN and other wireless communication systems.

FR4 is a popular substrate used to build PCBs due to its flame-retardant qualities. The material facilitates both dry and humid conditions, but due to its rigidity, it's difficult to make using a 3D printer. But a printed polymer substrate offers certain advantages over FR4, such as lowering absorptive losses at high frequencies.

Another problem with FR4 is that it's difficult to prototype with rigid circuit boards. Once again, 3D printing on a polymer surface is the superior option. This approach lets you test prototypes must faster so you can accelerate a product launch. Manufacturing IoT devices with a 3D printer is 90 percent faster than relying on a traditional assembly line production process.

At the moment, there are various types of 3D printers designed for different applications. The manufacturing of high-frequency antennas for IoT devices requires an inkjet 3D printer to provide high-resolution printing. Other types of 3D printers may not be suitable for this type of design that must be printed accurately according to size, dimensions, and pad size.

New Possibilities for Combining 3D Printing and IoT

Today a 3D printer can create a multitude of products up to a certain physical size and volume level. Even 3D-printed homes exist now with the help of assemblers. Since it's possible to print electronic circuit components with a 3D printer, there's a wide range of technology that can be improved by this process. Adding in IoT allows real-time monitoring to be part of the production process.

What's missing so far in the 3D printing industry is a framework of consistent standards for additive manufacturing processes. As the industry embraces more consistent standards with a degree of flexibility, it will become more vital in simplying production of sophisticated IoT devices at low volume. It's definitely cost-effective while producing zero waste for making IoT device enclosures that protect the circuitry.

The future of 3D printing technology will certainly involve much more use of the blockchain than today. Blockchain adds a strong layer of cybersecurity and provides timestamps on data transactions that cannot be changed. The combination of several innovative smart technologies is called "Industry 4.0". The main barrier holding back the mass adoption of this new paradigm is cost.

Automation is another area where the merging of IoT and 3D printing will become more powerful as technology improves. IoT sensors can collect data on customer feedback and determine quickly what the right supply level should be to fit demand. An automated 3D printing production process helps resolve high labor costs and shortages.

The most powerful factories of the future will be those that combine a broad range of Industry 4.0 technologies. The challenge for these factories will be to avoid getting sidetracked by irrelevant data. Factories will still require human analysts, aided by AI machine learning software, to evaluate production and quality control processes.


Manufacturing designs can be printed from an additive system of integrated 3D printing and IoT sensors to improve the production process. At the moment, this technological mix is emerging and evolving for enhancing low-volume 3D printing. 


3D printing, additive manufacturing, FR4, inkjet 3D printing, IoT, polymer substrates

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