Tools, Processes, Materials, and Commercial Applications Showcased at Extreme Electronics TechXPOT
FlexTech Alliance, focused on developing the electronic display and the flexible, printed electronics industry supply chain, demonstrates how the printed and flexible electronics industry is moving from R&D into volume manufacturing for practical applications. The Extreme Electronics TechXPOT session at SEMICON West 2011 titled “Printed/Flexible Electronics: Beyond R&D to Real Deal Technologies” showcased milestones reached by innovators of new technologies for electronic printing, photovoltaics, and conductive inks, most of which were developed in partnership with FlexTech Alliance.
At the Extreme Electronics TechXPOT session, industry experts provided updates on the current market and projected growth areas, the state of materials development including a new materials registry database, the status of equipment technology for sintering and annealing to improve circuit performance, and the real products – from toys to solar cells to flexible lighting – now taking advantage of these disruptive technologies.
Recent progress on developing printable conductive inks, flexible substrates, and associated continuous processes for making electronics means there is now an advancing infrastructure ready for the practical manufacture of disruptive new products. Lawrence Gasman, Principal Analyst and Co-founder of NanoMarkets presented “A Future for Printed and Flexible Electronics”, illustrating how new technology enables mass-production and conformable circuitry, from low cost integrated intelligence in packaging, to new types of displays, building-integrated solar (BiPV), and wide-area lighting panels.
One step toward moving these research technologies into practical production is reliable information on materials properties that clearly specifies just how these properties are measured, so users can make an informed comparison of similar products. Erika Rebrosova, Assistant Professor at Western Michigan University (WMU) presented “The Expanding Availability of Commercial Materials for Printed Electronics – Online Materials Registry”, demonstrating the newly created user-friendly database of materials properties and information on their processing (by manufacturing platform).
There are many new developments to be added to this knowledge base. For instance, a new series of copper-oxide reduction inks for inkjet and screen printing from NovaCentrix report sheet resistances as low as 60 mΩ/sq on paper substrates with ink costing less than $100/kg in volume. Additionally, Stan Farnsworth, Vice President of Marketing for NovaCentrix presented “Advances in Materials and Processing for Printed Electronics and Photovoltaics”, illustrating how progress in post-print processing for drying, sintering, and annealing printed inks improve their functionality and enable higher performance for more demanding applications. NovaCentrix has developed a method utilizing high-intensity flash lamps to heat the functional films but not the substrates, potentially allowing solution-based processes for photovoltaics and displays.
Saad Ahmed, Engineering Manager at Xenon Corp. presented “Photonic Sintering Using Low Temperature Pulsed Light”, demonstrating an approach that uses pulsed flash lamp technology for low-temperature sintering of nanoparticle inks in roll-to-roll (R2R) processes. Xenon offers Xenon Flash lamps that are capable of delivering very high peak energies over a very short duration of a few milliseconds, allowing faster and more effective sintering in high-speed R2R processing compared to low-temperature bake ovens.
On the application side, printed electronics include a set of consumer markets where printed logic and memory will be required. The size and cost of fully-printed systems is set to challenge silicon-based technologies in ultra-high-volume distributed applications. To address this issue, Thin Film Electronics produces rewritable memory tags manufactured using full roll-to-roll printing. Jennifer Ernst, Vice President, North America, Thin Film Electronics ASA presented “High Volume Production of All-Printed Re-Writable Memory Products for Consumer Applications”. The presentation shows how printed non-volatile RAM (NVRAM), when combined with printed transistor elements, serves as the basis of a new generation of cheap, disposable, and highly-ubiquitous electronic devices. The company is working with major toy and game companies and has established high-volume manufacturing to deliver millions of tags per month.
In other commercial development, a new method for fabricating printed semiconductors, developed by Nth Degree Technologies, allows a standard high-speed printing press to print conductive ink on to paper, plastic or other substrate materials. William J. Ray, Chief Scientist at Nth Degree Technologies presented “Printing Fabricated Micro-Semiconductors with Traditional Graphics Arts Processes”, demonstrating that printed semiconductors made with these inks reduce the cost of producing semiconductor-based devices while creating innovative conformable products. Wide area lighting is currently being produced with this technology by means of a Light Emitting Diode (LED) “ink”. This LED ink is being used to print area lighting that is converted into a flat panel to replace fluorescent tube fixtures.
Also on the energy front, a project funded by FlexTech Alliance helped boost efficiency of organic photovoltaics (OPV) to nearly 12 percent using high efficiency donor polymer materials developed by Solarmer Energy Inc. This project builds upon previous designs to synthesize a new active layer material in polymer solar cells that delivers improved properties like low band gap, appropriate molecular energy levels, good mobility and excellent processability. Vishal Shrotriya, Technology Director at Solarmer Energy presented “Innovations in Solar: Driving Down the Cost of Flexible PV Panels”. Dr. Shrotriya shows how vast improvements made by companies such as Solarmer Energy are approaching the under 50 cents per Watt needed to outperform traditional power production on a financial basis and trigger true economies of scale in solar manufacturing. “Developments such as those presented at the Extreme Electronics TechXPOT session are exciting and demonstrate the progress being achieved by the flexible and printed electronics industry,” said Michael Ciesinski, CEO, FlexTech Alliance.