How 3D Printers Help You Evaluate ICs

February 23, 2017

Christine Young  By: Christine Young
 Blogger, Maxim Integrated 


You can review specs on data sheets, study use cases in application notes and white papers, and talk to applications engineers. But there’s no better way to truly understand how a component might work in your design than through a product demo.

For vendors like Maxim, it’s now a necessity to build demos on demand for customers. After all, as a prospective customer, you might have a unique use case for which you’d like to test out the ICs. And, you may not have a lot of time for conducting your evaluation.

To create product demos with more agility and responsiveness, Maxim’s engineers rely on tools such as 3D printers (Figure 1) and laser cutters. Vendors have traditionally used third-party companies for 3D printing, laser cutting, and creating some of the parts of a given demo. But this approach takes time—the vendor has to schedule an appointment and wait for the results, which could be a long time if the third-party company is booked up.

3d printer

Figure 1. This 3D printer is printing speaker enclosures for use in prototype audio testing.

“In-house 3D printers and laser cutters perfectly fill our need for rapidly creating crude prototypes in low volumes, both for internal and customer use,” says Maxwell McKinnon, member of the technical staff in the Applications Group at Maxim. McKinnon works on mobile audio products for Maxim. He explained that one useful way to tap into the 3D printer is to create custom jigs for holding microphones in the proper place to demonstrate Maxim’s mobile audio components (Figure 2). Precise placement of the microphones is essential to showcase the audio quality that the audio ICs are capable of delivering. An off-the-shelf jig may not hold the microphone at the proper angle or at precisely the right position for an accurate measurement of the sound. Similarly, the engineers can use the 3D printer to create smartphone stands that allow customers to get an accurate read on the audio quality stemming from the mobile audio ICs (Figure 3).

microphone jig

Figure 2. Speaker and microphone jigs can be printed on a 3D printer, while the speaker housing can be laser cut.

smartphone stands

Figure 3. 3D printers can print out smartphone stands used in mobile audio demos.  

Rapid Prototyping with 3D Printer

Maxim’s advanced sensors team in the company’s Industrial & Healthcare Group is another group that makes frequent use of 3D printers. David Pecoraro, a senior member of the technical staff in the team, says that 3D printers enable his team to quickly build proofs of concept that can be assessed before larger volumes of the design can be created. For example, they can print out a pogo pin and test it on an electrode, ensuring that the parts will hold together before producing the pogo pins in volume.

The laser cutter is used to custom cut acrylic boards that can then be mounted with PCBs and other electronic components to create demos. Previously, the engineers might have used hand-cut wood to fashion a demo board. Using the laser cutter allows them to create boards that are more robust, sturdy, and professional (Figure 4).

laser cut demo board

Figure 4. The display board for this audio amplifier demo was laser cut.