With a market size of almost $30 billion in 2017 and a growth potential to over $70 billion in ten years, the market of printed, organic and flexible electronics can no longer be neglected. The definition of the market is diffuse however as is contains products which are flexible, but not printed, products which are printed, but not organic etcetera. Henk Goossens, Marketing and Business Development manager at Meyer Burger Netherlands tries to shed some light on the market by addressing the main opportunities and challenges and explaining the solutions that Meyer Burger contributes to manufacturing of new types of electronics that could even be coined "printed, organic, flexible, structural, wearable, stretchable and hybrid electronics".
Ubiquitous use of electronics require new manufacturing concepts
Electronics make our life easier and that's why we surround ourselves with it. Electronics are not only growing in complexity and are taking over complex tasks as driving your car, it also fills more spaces in our daily life performing relatively simple tasks. We see more and more electronics in our homes, cars, supermarkets, cities, hospitals and fitness centers, leading to a demand for low cost, miniaturized, low weight, flexible device with a high degree of integration. These electronics all need power, communication, sensors and (graphical) user interfaces. Therefore the above requirements hold for the individual components like logic and memory, batteries, displays, antennas, sensors and solar cells, as well as for the integrated devices we build from these components. So, while sensors might be functionalized by printing, but are not always flexible, and some batteries are flexible, but not organic, it is the conversion to non-traditional manufacturing technologies that bring cost, size and weight reduction and increased flexibility that defines the printed, organic and flexible electronics industry in the end. With this in mind, Meyer Burger has identified three important manufacturing techniques that are key enablers across this diversified industry: functional inkjet printing, thin film encapsulation and roll-to-roll processing.
Digital, additive manufacturing reduces cost
Inkjet printing of functional materials is an important enabler of cost reduction. Being an additive technology, it avoids the equipment, material and labor cost of additional processes related to traditional lithography - coating, exposure, artwork production and development. Next to this it adds flexibility in the production process due to its digital nature and offers miniaturization potential with its small picoliter droplet size. For these reasons inkjet is being explored and adopted in many different fields of the printed electronics market. Applications are found in virtually all areas of electronics manufacturing (logic and memory, displays, sensors, solar cells, PCB) and other industries (e.g. life sciences and pharmaceutics).
Meyer Burger has recognized the adoption of functional inkjet in this wide variety of industrial applications and has put significant effort into the development of the fully modular hardware and software PiXDRO JETx platform. It enables them to configure an application specific inkjet printer based on proven functional modules. Companies around the world are eager to apply inkjet printing and, at the same time, are conscious about the engineering cost and risk associated with the introduction of a new technology in their production environment. The fact that a JETx printing tool can be configured instead of being designed from scratch, significantly reduces the engineering effort. The use of proven modules guarantees reliability, high yield, fast commissioning and overall reduction of the project risk and timelines.
The JETx family architecture consists of a number of base platforms for very small up to very large substrates (S, M, L, XL) and a set of configurable print engines for solvent based, hotmelt and UV curable inks. The print engine includes print heads, ink supply, print head maintenance, controls software and user interface. A printing system is typically completed by e.g. a wafer handling robot for semiconductor applications, or glass handling system and inert enclosure often found in thin film encapsulation of OLED and other displays.
PiXDRO JETx platform covers all functional inkjet printing segments
Sensitive organic electronics need protection
Thin Film Encapsulation technology is key in the production of flexible and sensitive organic electronic devices. It replaces glass encapsulation in OLED lighting and display panels offering equivalent moisture and oxygen barrier functionality at improved flexibility and robustness and reduced device thickness and weight. The technology also enables other flexible display products, thin film batteries and protects printed electronics and perovskite solar modules. Meyer Burger addresses the flexible encapsulation challenges with its CONx TFE system. The system provides excellent water and oxygen barrier properties without compromising on optical transparency. The fully automated CONx system features Meyer Burger's proprietary remote plasma PECVD for inorganic coating and its PiXDRO inkjet printing technology for the deposition of homogeneous, accurately positioned organic layers. The remote microwave plasma technology offers the right set of characteristics: low temperature (below 100°C), low ion bombardment, excellent layer homogeneity and conformity combined with high throughput.
CONx TFE system for thin film encapsulation of sensitive flexible electronics
Roll-to-roll manufacturing for flexible products
It has been widely recognized that roll-to-roll processing of flexible devices can induce a breakthrough in cost reduction. For some of today's flexible electronics products, the production volume is already high enough to justify roll-to-roll production. For such applications Meyer Burger is offering its FLEx roll-to-roll tools equipped with either atmospheric spatial atomic layer deposition (sALD) or vacuum based plasma enhanced chemical vapor deposition (PECVD). PECVD is a well-known and industry proven process for deposition of thin layers and can be applied in e.g. flexible battery and TFT production. Spatial ALD has received a lot of interest lately because of its ability to create very thin (several nanometer), but very high quality layers in an atmospheric environment. ALD layers are built up atom by atom and, by nature, offer pinhole free, very thin and extremely homogeneous layer quality. Meyer Burger applies spatial ALD for production tools for ultra barrier foils - PET foils coated with a water and oxygen barrier that form the base substrate for flexible OLEDs, thin film PV and printed electronics devices.
FLEx R2R sALD barrier foil production tool
Although the printed, organic and flexible electronics market may look diffuse from a distance, it is the use of non-traditional manufacturing techniques for the production of lower cost, wearable and ubiquitous electronics that is the central theme. By offering printing, thin film encapsulation and roll-to-roll processing, Meyer Burger provides three key technologies that enable the electronics industry to effectuate the predicted growth in the coming years.