How Opulo Protects Microchips With 3D Printed ESD-Safe Trays

 3D Printing ESD Safe Parts in Manufacturing


ESD safe trays

The manufacturers that make machines for other manufacturers keep the industry ticking along. Stephen Hawes’ company Opulo is a perfect example, making a ‘pick and place’ machine which grabs and deposits electronic components onto PCBs (printed circuit boards) for electronics manufacturers.

The microchips the company uses are the most ESD-sensitive components, requiring protection from electrostatic discharge from storage up until installation. The company encountered a major issue during product development where the chips were failing at an alarming rate because of ESD damage.

The company figured out that friction from the assembly process was generating static which was being transferred to the chips. Immediately, the company set out to find a way to keep the chips safe during assembly.

“These chips are expensive, we don’t want them to fail,” says Stephen Hawes of Opulo. “We checked the soldering a million times, that wasn’t it. We started wearing ESD bracelets (that safely direct electric discharge to the ground), so we knew we weren’t causing the issues. Finally, we realised it was the trays that held the chips.”

3D printing for the win

Hawes turned to 3D printing and ESD-safe materials to produce tooling and trays that would protect the microchips from static. After reviewing his options, he chose the Formlabs Form 3 and ESD Resin for his manufacturing requirements.

“You can get injection moulded ESD safe plastics, but the upfront cost of that is astronomical… especially if the design is changing… you can mill it… but even then, it’s not quick or worth it, and we don’t have the space for a milling machine. It’s easy to pop a Form 3 in the corner and put the Form Wash and Form Cure under it. I don’t want to babysit a machine.”

The company 3D prints ESD-safe trays for the microchips and other components using ESD Resin, and they also use Clear Resins to make transparent lids to monitor the position of the chips. “These parts, they’re really fragile, delicate and precise. When it comes to holding a chip like this, it’s great to have the precision of a Form 3 printer.”

In addition to ESD-safe trays, the company makes jigs and fixtures with Tough 2000 Resin. Tough 2000 Resin simulates the strength and stiffness of ABS. It’s the stiffest material in the Formlabs functional family. Parts do not bend easily and withstand stress and strain; they do not snap or shatter under stress but deform instead.

In the future, the company plans to invest more into 3D printing to unlock faster print speeds and new material capabilities. They are also considering injection moulding as a complementary technology for certain parts.

Find out more

This story was originally covered by Formlabs.

To find out more about LFS and SLA, request a Formlabs sample, call us on 01765 694 007, or send us an email at You can also book a discovery call with our Formlabs specialists Elaine Rutledge or Tammy O’Neill.

Elaine RutledgeBook a call with Elaine Book a call with Tammy