The printed electronics market is growing rapidly - in 2017, its value was estimated at approx. USD 9.3 billion. IDTechEx Research finds that the total market for printed, flexible and organic electronics will grow from USD 31.7 Billion in 2018 to USD 77.3 billion in 2029. This strongly developing sector faces a major change. Breakthrough technology of ultra-precise printing of nanomaterials has the potential to alter "the rules of the game" here. Not only does it open up new perspectives for producers from this sector, but it will enable new areas of industry to be implemented within it.
Printed electronics sector is consistently pursuing miniaturization, and while desired advancement of devices is progressing steadily, unfortunately in most cases it happens in direct proportion to their price. However, thanks to the new technology commercialized by the interdisciplinary XTPL team, in the near future it will be possible to print quickly and cheaply even the most advanced devices.
The technology created by XTPL research team is a pioneering additive manufacturing solution enabling ultra-precise printing of nanomaterials. XTPL printing head equipped with a special nozzle deposits inhouse formulated, precisely adjusted ink using unique ultraprecise deposition (UPD) - the minimal size of printed structures reaches values as low as 1 micrometre (μm). This advanced solution works on most substrates (electrically conductive & non-conductive), even ones that are flexible and non-flat.
"Additive manufacturing methods existing currently on the market, allow for obtaining structures with a width in the range of tens of micrometers. We offer an increase in precision not just by a few percent, but by a factor of 10 X or even 100 X." - says Filip Granek, PhD, CEO of XTPL, the company which commercializes the solution.
What does it mean for the printed electronics sector? Such an immense increase in precision, will in the future enable the production of advanced devices e.g. processors, high-resolution displays, photovoltaic cells or intelligent biosensors with cost-effective and scalable methods. Hence, apart from offering a completely new perspective for manufacturers, already operating in the field of printed electronics, the solution is also a chance for other branches of industry to enter this sector.
Broken conductive paths
One of the challenges of modern electronics lies in the fact that fine conductive structures on individual micron scale used in integrated circuits, LCDs and OLED displays, solar cells, advanced PCBs, etc. are prone to damage. This is a serious problem for manufacturers as it decreases their production yield. Repair of such defects, being one of the causes for bad pixels (sector worth in 2018 - USD 178 million and forecasted to reach in 2025 - USD 460 million), is multi-step and costly. In fact such repair process is necessary in most cases as conductive electrodes are used in semi-finished products which production price represents a significant part (even up to 50-70%) of the final product cost.
Ultra-precise printing technology allows defects in conductive paths to be repaired already at the production stage, effectively, with unparalleled precision and speed, while reducing costs. It is worth underlining that XTPL solution for open defects repair requires no electric voltage to form conductive lines, which fully eliminates the risk of damage caused by high electric field to the substrate and other - electrically active - components. For manufacturers of new class electronics, where miniaturization issues are of key importance, XTPL solution can strongly contribute to increase of yield. New method takes into account requirements such as: greater overall length and smaller width of conductive lines (even 1-5 μm) with a simultaneous reduction of the distance between them, the need for reducing mechanical, thermal and electromagnetic stress during production and repair processes as well as the need for reducing tact time. Thanks to the unique formulation of the ink (dedicated for open defects repair) the solution ensures resistivity, solid mechanical adhesion and overall stability. All that with no need for using toxic substances.
Time for commercialization
The strong interest in the new XTPL nanoprinting method was confirmed by the survey carried out by IDTechEx among more than 300 corporations and research centers from the printed electronics sector from around the world.
"It is clear and positive confirmation that our technology attracts real interest from international players" - Filip Granek sums up, emphasizing the fact that advanced talks are under way with selected business partners, which in the near future are expected to lead to commercialization of the technology.