How BotFactory is Revolutionizing Electronics Manufacturing

Created: December 14, 2023
Updated: January 2, 2024
How BotFactory is Revolutionizing Electronics Manufacturing

On this episode of the CTRL+LISTEN Podcast, dive deep into the Future of Electronics Manufacturing with BotFactory's visionary CEO Carlos Ospina Tarazona! Join us on an exciting journey through cutting-edge technologies, industry trends, and the forward-thinking vision shaping the landscape of innovation.

Join Carlos and hosts Nora and James as they detail the latest advancements revolutionizing the electronics manufacturing sector. From state-of-the-art assembly processes to game-changing materials, they leave no stone unturned. Discover the driving forces behind BotFactory's success and the pivotal role it plays in shaping the future of technology. Gain valuable insights into the challenges faced by the industry and the ingenious solutions that are propelling it forward. Whether you're an industry professional, tech enthusiast, or simply curious about what lies ahead in electronics, this video is your backstage pass to the forefront of innovation.

Listen to the Episode:

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Episode Highlights:

  • Introduction to BotFactory and Additive Manufacturing
  • Impact and Advantages of BotFactory's Process
  • Sustainability as a Bonus Outcome
  • Scalability and Applications Beyond PCBs
  • Challenges in Electronics Manufacturing and BotFactory's Solutions

Links and Resources:

  • Learn More about Carlos: here
  • Learn More about BotFactory: here

Transcript

Carlos Ospina: Absolutely. So, we are trying to replace the process for manufacturing PCBs in low volume using additive manufacturing. We place materials upwards to create what you will find on your iPhone if you break it in half.

James: Can you explain what additive manufacturing is and what its history and context are?

Carlos: Yes, absolutely. Additive manufacturing is 3D printing, right? What you're trying to do is align materials in a way that will create a 3D shape. I think a lot of people have been exposed to it by now; it's been around for a long time. Companies like Stratasys and MakerBot made it very famous during the early 2000s. Now, I think it's widespread. What makes us particularly different is that we don't print plastics. That's not the game we are in. What we do is we print insulating materials and conductive materials, and we stack them to create PCBs. We make electronics, and that's where our core is interesting. Obviously, people may overlook how revolutionary that is. What do you see as the impact of people being able to create stuff like this on a personal level?

James: So, the sustainability is sort of an outcome of your product?

Carlos: It's a bonus outcome. Obviously, you're looking at the time saved, the money saved, but companies can say, "Oh well, I'm actually having less of an environmental impact," and I can say that when I manufacture this way. It might be in early times; we are producing low volumes, definitely. But I hope that at some point, the technology will get mature enough that it will be adopted for larger volumes. Definitely. I imagine this is really important for testing. So when you have an engineer that's designing something instead of having to wait for a sample to come back, you can just print it out, test it, see if it works, move on to the next thing if it doesn't.

Carlos: Absolutely. Furthermore, you can do it faster; you can do it cheaper. The most interesting thing is you can actually make it – I'm not going to say you reward your engineers for making mistakes – but you definitely remove the punishment of trying something different and new and failing at it. If you tell your engineers, "I just want to make this weird device that wraps around this globe and does this and that, but don't worry, you can do it a hundred times, and it's not going to break the bank." That's reassuring and enabling for a lot of things around the world.

James: So, you mentioned, obviously, at the moment, it's smaller scale. Is this something you see technology-wise as being scalable in the future? Do you think this could expand to a larger scale production facility?

Carlos: I believe that there are still inherent restrictions in speed in the way that the technology works today. We're not really a replacement for large volume manufacturing. If your production is under a thousand units in a year, you're probably a perfect candidate for what we're doing because we can do it quickly, at a reasonable price. Sometimes we will even be cheaper than the industrial way. The interesting thing is, if you look at, for example, the number of orders in the States where the order is for less than a thousand units – it's 29% of the orders in the States. It's still a good market. It's a big market, and I think it's a big opportunity.

Nora: What role do you think your product will play in space exploration and other planet colonization?

Carlos: That's very exciting. When you're far away on the moon, you can count on wanting or wishing you had some sort of electronics helping you, like monitoring growth or connecting people. Communication, entertainment – all of this is entrenched in the culture of human beings today. I don't think any human will want to go to space without electronics in their lives. The second thing is, I don't think UPS or FedEx will expand their operations to the moon or further than that. For the time being, you probably want to be able to access these electronics. They will probably come in the ships that will come in, but there's a very big chance that you can actually manufacture these electronics in space using technology like the ones we have.

James: So, sustainability is sort of an outcome of your product?

Carlos: It's a bonus outcome. Obviously, you're looking at the time saved, the money saved, but companies can say, "Oh well, I'm actually having less of an environmental impact," and I can say that when I manufacture this way. It might be in early times; we are producing low volumes, definitely. But I definitely wish or hope that at some point, the technology will get mature enough that it will be adopted for larger volumes.

James: I imagine this is really important for testing. So when you have an engineer that's designing something instead of having to wait for a sample to come back, you can just print it out, test it, see if it works, move on to the next thing if it doesn't.

Carlos: Absolutely. Furthermore, you can do it faster; you can do it cheaper. The most interesting thing is you can actually make it – I'm not going to say you reward your engineers for making mistakes – but you definitely remove the punishment of trying something different and new and failing at it. If you tell your engineers, "I just want to make this weird device that wraps around this globe and does this and that, but don't worry, you can do it a hundred times, and it's not going to break the bank." That's reassuring and enabling for a lot of things around the world.

James: So, you mentioned, obviously, at the moment, it's smaller scale. Is this something you see technology-wise as being scalable in the future? Do you think this could expand to a larger scale production facility?

Carlos: I believe that there are still inherent restrictions in speed in the way that the technology works today. We're not really a replacement for large volume manufacturing. If your production is under a thousand units in a year, you're probably a perfect candidate for what we're doing because we can do it quickly, at a reasonable price. Sometimes we will even be cheaper than the industrial way. The interesting thing is, if you look at, for example, the number of orders in the States where the order is for less than a thousand units – it's 29% of the orders in the States. It's still a good market. It's a big market, and I think it's a big opportunity.

Nora: What role do you think your product will play in space exploration and other planet colonization?

Carlos: That's very exciting. When you're far away on the moon, you can count on wanting or wishing you had some sort of electronics helping you, like monitoring growth or connecting people. Communication, entertainment – all of this is entrenched in the culture of human beings today. I don't think any human will want to go to space without electronics in their lives. The second thing is, I don't think UPS or FedEx will expand their operations to the moon or further than that. For the time being, you probably want to be able to access these electronics. They will probably come in the ships that will come in, but there's a very big chance that you can actually manufacture these electronics in space using technology like the ones we have.

So, that's very interesting. And here's a cherry on top for that. Humans have been in space for a long time now, right? So, it is very exciting; the whole motivation was exploration, and kind of breaking boundaries. But I think we are just at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what can be done in space. There's a big Gold Rush right now on what can be done in space that will be better than on Earth, and 3D printing is one of those areas where the opportunities are huge. Because when you, for example, in our case, use the same inks and the same material that we use on Earth, they behave completely differently when you print them in the absence of gravity or lower gravity. Some of those effects give you amazing benefits. For example, you can print crystals much easier in space than you can on Earth or with less effort.

So, what that means is, imagine the big problem that servers have on Earth, which is they produce heat, and the heat gets concentrated on the components because the FR4, which is the board they are using, is a material that has been designed to isolate heat. This material is not good at conducting heat in any way. But if you were to print some sort of material that had a crystal formation, crystals are actually very, very good at transferring heat. So, what are the opportunities there? Well, maybe you can improve the heat management. Maybe you can think about optical applications, fiber optics, things like that. You're going to start thinking about having different wiring in a unit that is very, very compressed and performs incredibly fast but takes just a tiny amount of space. All of these things in space. Of course, we're very excited about being able to produce electronics in space, but there's also a big opportunity for producing things in space that can actually be brought back to Earth and far much better. Wow, it's exciting. It is. Altium 365 lets you hold the fastest design reviews ever. Share your designs from anywhere and with anyone with a single click. It's easy. Leave a comment tagging your teammate, and they'll instantly receive an email with a link to the design. Anyone you invite can open the design using a web browser. Using the browser interface, you're able to comment, mark up, cross-probe, inspect, and more. Comments are attached directly to the project, making them viewable within Altium Designer, as well as through the browser interface. Give it a try and get started with Alt 365 today.

Nora: Is the cold an issue though? Because when I think of space, like without gravity in space, it's cold, compressed, dense. Is that not an issue?

Carlos: I think, I think 60 years of operation, right, in space. Well, I may be a little bit off in my numbers, but the thing that we have learned is how to survive there, right? Somehow, by now, we know everything kills you. That's kind of one of the things we definitely learned. So, cold will kill you. You know, like the difference in temperature and pressure will kill you, radiation will kill you. Everything. So, we come to realize, well, definitely, how should we build places that we can inhabit, right? How do we create something that can sustain lives? When I say lives, it means humans, but we are also thinking maybe we may need some stock or something like a chicken or something, right? Maybe we need plants. Maybe we need something else, right? So, it is not outlandish to think that in that process of creating this infrastructure to sustain life, we will have some dedicated spaces for manufacturing, be it 3D printing or casting or whatever you're doing with, for example, the ground or the sun that you find on the moon. You can probably reuse it for some of these activities as well. So, to your answer, I think we can be somehow assured that where we're going to be operating is going to have some thermal control and pressure control and radiation protection of some sort and the likes, just so the operator doesn't get fried in the process. Do this.

James: And what are the applications for, I don't know, say, the defense industry? I know that's a space that's really rapidly moving, and people can be deployed places, the need to place a part. It could be life or death.

Carlos: Totally. And so, I can talk about the defense, right? So, the defense, well, if you are operating a large ship, right, and imagine this ship gets stranded in a place where you probably don't want to leave it stranded because maybe you are retiring or maybe you are just moving to a different location, and your engines stop. I can guarantee you, you probably want to get out of there as quick as possible, and if it's a big ship, it's very likely faster if you actually manage to fix it yourself than if you wait for someone to bring you the repair. So, that is the case for the Navy. So, the Navy, you probably want to have the ability to repair yourself on the go, right? Or maybe even produce repairs while you are on the move, right? You know that there's something that is about to break or that breaks so often you can do it. And that is repair. But then let's talk about upgradability. So, can you, for example, in the age of digital twins, which is essentially can you create identical models of the same thing in different places, right? So, you can model it as it would behave in your software and then create a model that you can distribute to create a repair or an upgrade. So, if you keep in mind that that is something that already exists, the ability, for example, of the Department of Defense to say, 'Well, we're going to create a new encryption key or a new encryption algorithm or let's release this new hardware that would allow us to do XYZ,' and the ability to do it quickly because you have a way to replicate and materialize it in different places at the same time under a secure network, short, secure connection. All of that stuff has to be given, but the ability of materializing is very, very important. And here's where the little difference happens, right? So, I think 3D printing, the way that people think about it, which is like this plastic thing, maybe a metallic thing, that is just a single material that you build, it's a mechanical element. Sometimes these elements, you know, they are simple in nature in composition. They usually, like a single material, sometimes you can solder or weld them back in place, or sometimes you can carve them out of a different material with electron. The complexity is such that it's not like you can hack it, right? It's a real, there's a real barrier of entry on having this ability to super quickly deploy electronics in the field. So, DOD application, sure, repairs, sure, upgradability. And if you can get it closer to where the action is happening, then the reaction time and the operation readiness is going to be multiplied by X. Right. Then you have similar industries that will behave similarly, like, so if you're talking about an oil rig that is sitting in the middle of the Caspian Sea, I don't know, and your communications are down, boom, okay, maybe someone needs to fix that immediately, right? And bringing back and forth materials to that station can cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars, but you can do it in place, right? So, it's a very interesting, not just for DOD, actually, the industry as a whole can benefit from it as well. Yeah, I mean, I could go on and with examples. Industries where you have producing millions of dollars per hour, right? One machine blows a fuse, something breaks, can you create an art very quickly? And the faster you can create it, the faster you can get back to production. You save your dollars, right?

James: I imagine it's the same with, like, remote mining towns and that sort of thing with big money industry, like high-tech equipment breaks down to send a part out from the big city can take who knows how long to get there and yeah, same scenario as AOR.

Carlos: Yeah. It's, I mean, I think the applications. I think one of the big things or interesting things for both Factory is that we are in the middle of electronics, and electronics is a huge field. I think there are a lot of things that we haven't touched on because we are actually don't know enough about the specific application, but I think the possibilities are limitless, and the amount of integration that is happening between diverse systems is also growing very quickly. So now you have biomedical systems that require sensors in places where you would not need a sensor before. So they need to be tinier. They need to be, like, connected, low noise, and stuff like that. They need to be printed on silicon, which is clearly not a material that you can etch with acid, right? Because it's so soft. So I think we're just at the tip of the iceberg. So, the amount of things that you can do when you're printing the electronics instead of etching them or chemically treating them, the possibilities are limitless.

James: Right, yeah. We're kind of coming up on time, so we don't have too many more questions for you, but we just wanted to know, what do you see as being the biggest challenge in the future of electronics manufacturing? What's holding us back?

Carlos: I think, more than holding us back, is the amount of complexity. So, and we are actually, as humans, we're actually doing this very quickly, but I think it's harder to do it any quicker than we are. And if you look at a chip, right, the complexity inside of a chip is humongous, right? Like the network of interconnections and the complexity of those systems and then shrinking them and then making them as small as possible. But I think if you look at chips as one universe, I call that VLSI, very large-scale integrated systems, and then you look at PCBs, as you can imagine that being the larger integrated systems, right? So, it's not the tiny but the big ones that the difference between these two worlds are slowly starting to collapse into a single thing. Why? Because the chips that we know, imagine the processor on your laptop, right? That thing is not flexible. It just can't be flexible, and it might not have to do with the way the silicon is being manufactured. It has to do with the way the package, which is the thing that contains the silicon and creates the connections for the pins. So that thing has to be ceramic or plastic that is good enough at conducting heat. Why? Because you're going to place an in a heat sink on top to remove the heat from it, right? So, you need to package it. You still need to handle it. You need to place it. So the package helps with all that. And then you're going to place it on a board. Why on a board? Because you still need to interconnect the system. You need to connect it to the RAM. You need to connect it to your USB drives. You need to interconnect it with your elements. Well, what I think is happening, and it's an opportunity but as well as a lot of challenges. Okay, can we, at some point, get rid of that big chunky thing that is the package and make the chips flat and tiny as they are mounted directly on a board so that the electronics are 100% flexible? And if we're there, well, you'll say, 'Well, what's the big deal about flexible?' Well, it's conformable. It's lightweight. It can be carried in your pocket, or you can roll it, fold it, put it in your pocket as well. It can be much lighter for electronics in airplanes, so the distances can go much higher. There's a good amount of electronics in airplanes. Same for cars, right? So as soon as you start getting rid of the things that we might not need for functional operation, the more optimized that gets, the more we can do with space, with heat, with different applications. So, I think the challenge is getting there, right? How do you get to integrate so as PCV manufacturers improve our technology and go closer to them by being, like, more precise, thinner lines, better specs and clearances and things like that? Then how can the guys doing the chips come down to our level and meet us so that we can create a slimmer platform, right? Something that is lighter. That's an interesting point.

Nora: So, if I understand you correctly, are you saying that the systems that encase a lot of boards complicate the board's functionality and that in getting rid of the systems that encase them, they can function better because they're lighter and there's less opportunity for problems to happen?

Carlos: I was going one level down if you think about the chip. Just think about the chip. The process or the memory, they are like these black things, these black squares. From that square that you see, the actual chip is a tiny portion, like a tiny fraction of an area. So, if, let's say, your chip is—I'm going to exaggerate this—it's an inch by an inch square. The actual thing that does something in there might be a quarter of an inch by a quarter of an inch, and the rest of it is just a package. It's just plastic and connections, literally like wires that connect to the pins. So, if we can remove that, that will give us a lot of flexibility because then the silicon is actually so thin that it will actually be flexible. But it's not flexible because of the casing. So, that, to me, is interesting. And now the next question is, can printing become so precise? This might be years away. I don't know if this is ever going to happen, but if it gets that precise, that you can actually print the chip on the board. So, imagine that, at that point, we might not need to buy, transport, or do that kind of stuff to chips anymore. You can fully materialize a board with just a couple of jars on the back of the printer: one for silicon, one for carbon, one for metal, one for...right? So, you just have like four or five materials in the back, and you can create any electronics in the world. Wow. Wow. That would be nice. Well, will we get there? Stay tuned, I guess. Yeah, well.

Nora: If you can dream it, you can be it.

Carlos: Yeah, that's the idea.

James: Nora, I know you had one more question you wanted to ask as well.

Nora: Yeah. So, if you knew now what you know during the COVID lockdown, like, what would you do differently? If you could have seen into the future during the COVID lockdown, how would that have affected your viewpoint?

Carlos: Yeah. So, let me delve for a minute into the history of the company because I think that's important. The whole story began three friends, doing our masters, got together. We all had stories about trying to make prototypes somewhere at some point, and the things taking forever, and we spending money with people sitting waiting for these prototypes. And how could we make this happen faster? And then we were like, 'Aha, a 3D printer for electronics.' So, we're sitting in the middle of New York. At that point, MakerBot was like all the rage. Like, everyone was talking about this. We were like, 'Well, if MakerBot knows this, we're next door to them. Let's try to follow in their steps. Let's try to make this happen.' So, that's how the whole story, my personal story of P, was that I was building electronics in Colombia, which is where I am originally from, for an application, a company I had founded there. And everything was super painful. I'm complaining now about three weeks of lead time. Back in Colombia, I had two months of lead time. And that was, like, you can imagine how hard it was to move this thing. And today, jumping back to the pandemic, it's a realization for me that the logistics changed. You have to move things from one point to another. And electronics—the car industry was in trouble, the computer industry was in trouble because they could not get electronic components or electronic boards. I think if I could have seen what would happen, if I could have seen the pandemic coming my way, I would have probably changed the way the product I was pursuing. This desktop-size machine that sits at your desk and allows you to produce electronics. But if I had known that the pandemic was coming, I would have developed a larger system that would actually have gone into industrial production because the opportunity there was huge. Like, these people needed that, and there was no way to get it done. And my device was too small and too slow for what they needed. So, yeah, a crystal ball would have helped.

James: Right. Well, that brings us to the end of time. The last question we have for you is just if people want to support the company, check out your work, follow you on social media, stay up to date, all that sort of thing. What are the best places to do that?

Carlos: Well, our website is botfactory.com. You can contact us there. We have a lot of documents, videos, and things that you can look into. We have a very easy-to-access contact form. If you need to ask something or just reach out, by all means, we are very happy to talk to people about their projects, sometimes stuff that they don't believe is possible, most like we usually can make it happen. It's not that hard. And then we are also very active with trade shows. So, we announce where we're going to be. And if you want to talk to us, we usually bring up a printer, and we are the kind that will have it operating in front of you, running it. You tell us what you want, bring us a design, we might actually print it for you. So, yeah, I think those things. And yeah, absolutely, we are also active on social media. Twitter, which is funny because if you say Twitter at that, it's confusing—X_spner. And then we also do LinkedIn and Facebook. You just look for the name of the company, BotFactory, you'll find this.

James: Awesome. Well, thank you so much for coming on the show and talking to us. You have a lot of knowledge in the space, and it's very apparent. So, it's great to hear from you.

Carlos: No, thanks for the opportunity. I hope I explained properly, and I didn't get you too confused. But if I did, then maybe shoot me an email, and I'll try to explain more.

James: Thank you. Great having you on. And for everyone listening at home tuning in next week, we'll have another guest for you.

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