Conference overview of the 4th Printable Electronics and Displays, Las Vegas, October 26th-29th. Part One.
Approximately 130 people attended the fourth edition of the Printable Electronics and Displays conference organized by the Information Management Institute (IMI). This conference was attended by delegates from many of the leading companies in the industry, particularly those with involvement in ink jet printing of displays and electronics. The conference also included several descriptions of alternative processes furthering the discussion of which processes may be commercially successful. This article provides a sample of the information discussed at the conference with select analysis of the impact of the technology. Additional questions about these or other topics can be directed to the author or other IDTechEx specialist.
This year's opening address was given by Bruce Kahn, formerly of the Rochester Institute of Technology, now an independent writer and consultant. Dr. Kahn gave a good overview of the printing processes being considered to print displays and other electronics, prefaced by noting how print in general is in decline. The main point being that unless commercial printers are able to adopt their presses to new products, there will be continuing downward pressure on their businesses. Notably, he reported some work being done at Kodak where a mask is printed and cured in the non-image area. Multiple layers of fluids can be applied and segmented to the unmasked area drawing from Kodak's experience in multilayered photographic film. No mention of how Kodak may develop products for, or otherwise commercialize this technique.
When asked about resolution limits of various printing processes, he indicated that most numbers he provided are guidelines but there are ways to improve on all techniques such as those used for patterning ink jet using surface energy patterning. When asked why conventional photolithography was not mentioned as a competitive process, Dr. Kahn indicated the premise is that printed electronics is an alternative of photolithography that leverages typically more crude sizes, but uses printing processes which are fast and relatively inexpensive.
Lawrence Gasman, Principal Analyst for NanoMarkets, quoted the quite appropriate saying "printing is about making things look nice and electronics printing is making things work". This summarizes the new industry. He also mentioned the stark contrast between clean rooms and press rooms and how this will likely influence which applications practical in a given environment.
Mr. Gasman indicated how there really isn't a roadmap available to chart a course in printed electronics, but rather, that roadmaps are being put together by various groups simultaneously. He speculated that the winners will not be printers OR electronics companies, but an outside company without a major stake in either.
Linda Creagh, of Dimatix (formerly Spectra) gave a talk titled "Printing Electronics the New Way". Dr. Creagh indicated that the change of name for this ink jet print head manufacturer was necessitated by the fact that a Google search of 'spectra' would bring several thousand hits, whereas Dimatix is much more unique. They see that the current printing of color filters for LCDs is a logical transition from graphic ink jet to electronics. She stressed the importance of ink formulation to the formation of good dots and lines (no coffee stain morphology)
Dimatix has introduced a test stand for product development which is modestly priced (~$25k) and allows the visualization of small sample volumes, all important features for materials and equipment development.
Ricoh of Japan, presented their line of ink jet print heads and detailed some work done in partnership with the Japanese chemical company Harima. Their NanoPaste inks are comprised of roughly 60 wt.% silver Nanoparticles and can be sintered to nearly solid metal at approximately 220 C, which is an increasingly common approach to achieving conductivity. It will be interesting to see if the economics of high performance, medium thermal dose materials (150 C - 350 C, tens of seconds to minutes) can compete with those of low thermal dose (<150 C, less than a few seconds) silver flake inks, which are from one to two orders of magnitude less conductive.
Continuing the ink jet theme, Xaar was described as having a jet printed RFID antenna (0.5 m/s web speed) for 20 straight hours without a plugged jet. This is encouraging given the long term manufacturability concerns of ink jetting challenging materials. Also notable is the development of their HSS (side shooter), which recirculates ink past the ablated nozzle. This geometry leads to good jet self recovery and 3-phase firing at a frequency of 135khz, 1000 nozzles, 3 phase firing (adjacent nozzles cannot fire). Like many printhead manufacturers, Xaar partners with materials and integration companies and cited partnerships with Xennia/CIT, Cima Nanotech, and Molecular Imprints. They alluded to activities ranging from biotech to Ag conductive traces for solar cell applications.
Read part 2 on November 8.