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I would like to create a printed circuit board (PCB) which is not flat and which is not shaped into a square, but don't know how to proceed. Can Cadsoft Eagle create such a board? If so, how? What other software packages can be used to create boards such as this? Where can I send such a board for manufacture?

Furthermore, I want to create a piece of plastic which has a three-dimensional shape and onto which the printed circuit board will fit. What's a good way to design both the board and the plastic such that it's easy to ensure they both line up?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ There are flex circuit boards, which are designed flat and bent during installation. Many components won't fit properly on a non-flat surface, of course. \$\endgroup\$ – Ben Voigt Aug 2 '14 at 15:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ Keep in mind that flex boards (FPCs) can only conform to a very limited subset of surfaces (because they don't stretch). Mathematically, such a surface is said to have zero Gaussian curvature. \$\endgroup\$ – Spehro Pefhany Aug 2 '14 at 19:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ What type of components do you need to attach, SMD, thru-hole, or both? What track/space limits? How complex is the three-dimensional shape must the circuit and components be applied to? Is it feasible to embed the circuit and components within the shape? That might be easy to make. \$\endgroup\$ – gbulmer Aug 2 '14 at 21:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ Dependig on your budget this might be intresting for you too: voxel8.co \$\endgroup\$ – PlasmaHH Mar 2 '15 at 16:11
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You can create a non-square PCB simply by defining whatever shape you like for the board outline. As for a non-flat one, PCBs just aren't made that way.

There are some alternatives that you could consider:

  • Flexible kapton circuits. These the orange ribbons you see connecting things like LCD screens. They often have a few small circuit mount components on them, but they're not suitable for through-hole components.
  • Conductive thread. You could use fabric with conductive thread for your circuit. This is only going to be suitable for extremely simple circuits.
  • Multiple PCBs. You could divide your circuit up into small flat pieces connected by wires. This is probably your best option. By using a number of flat tiles, you can approximate a curved surface.
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A number of companies are offering 3D circuits but they are invariably custom designs, most commonly (but not exclusively) antenna systems. The cellphone companies can afford to use these methods as the size constraints make other options impractical.

Most of these are built on plastic substrates but I expect some applications would require ceramics or heat resistant epoxies.

Most times there are no components and no soldering but with enough money and passion even those limits can be worked around.

I would recommend a flex PCB that you wrap around a well designed part. As mentioned in comments above the flex will not stretch so shapes have to be made with curvature in one direction at a time.

https://3dmid.files.wordpress.com/2011/07/selectconnect-process.jpg

http://production.electronicspecifier.com/pcb-technology/3d-circuit-carriers-optimises-the-use-of-available-space

http://www.molex.com/molex/products/family?key=laser_direct_structuring_lds_technology

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You could use something like SolidWorks to design them both, and then a 3-D printer to bring them both into the real world.

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    \$\begingroup\$ You cannot (at least currently) 3D print circuit boards. How would you propose a 3D printer would be useful here? \$\endgroup\$ – Connor Wolf Aug 3 '14 at 6:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ Not sure Solidworks would work for non-planar PCB design. Even after that, there don't seem to be any 3D printers that can print a non-planar circuit board i.e. multimaterial with conductive traces that span a curve. Of course, if there are, and if they are intended for personal use, I'd be extremely keen to know and probably buy one. \$\endgroup\$ – Anindo Ghosh Aug 3 '14 at 6:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm pretty sure there are technologies in use which could do it, but not with desirable feature size, reliability/properties, or cost. \$\endgroup\$ – Chris Stratton Aug 3 '14 at 13:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ConnorWolf: Looks like you are not up to date ... voxel8.co \$\endgroup\$ – PlasmaHH Mar 2 '15 at 16:11

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