A New Materials Printer Deposits Functional Fluids

The Fujifilm Dimatix DMP-3000 materials deposition printer offers users a larger format, higher accuracy and higher repeatability.

By Jack Kenny

A large format fluid deposition system was unveiled recently at the Large-area, Organic & Printed Electronics Convention (LOPE-C) in Germany that takes inkjet deposition a step further in the printed electronics field. Fujifilm Dimatix, a supplier of industrial inkjet printheads, components and systems, introduced its new Dimatix Materials Printer, the DMP-3000, at the Large-area, Organic & Printed Electronics Convention (LOPE-C) held recently in Frankfurt, Germany. The DMP-3000 is a non-contact deposition system capable of jetting a wide range of functional fluids using multiple fluid deposition printheads interchangeably.

The new DMP-3000 joins the Fujifilm Dimatix DMP-2800 printer, which was introduced in 2005. The company reports that more than 400 systems have been sold worldwide. The DMP-2831 is a bench-top system designed for micro-precision jetting of a variety of functional fluids onto many different surfaces. It can build and define patterns over an area of 200 x 300 mm and substrates up to 25 mm thick. It employs single-use printhead cartridges that researchers can fill with their own fluid materials.

Expanding upon the DMP-2800, the new DMP-3000 features a larger printable area of 300 x 300 mm, and maintains a positional accuracy of ±5 µm and repeatability of ±1 µm. The DMP-3000 uses a temperature controlled vacuum platen to register, maintain and thermally manage substrates during printing. The company has tested its new equipment on a wide variety of substrates, and reports that it performs on plastic, glass, ceramics, and silicon, as well as on flexible substrates from membranes, gels and thin films to paper products.

Noting that the DMP printers are primarily for R&D, Jan Sumerel, manager of biomedical sciences for Fujifilm Dimatix, says that the major difference between functional fluid printing and graphic printing is the requirement for different types of printheads. “We have printheads that are made from silicon. Silicon is resistant to a larger number of chemistries required for functional printing.

“Materials like carbon nanotubes, gold or silver nanotubes, or DNA, are very expensive, but if you have the capability to deposit very small amounts, then you can print a functional film without wasting the material.”

Earlier methods of thin film deposition utilized vapor deposition, which Sumerel said could involve “harsh processing conditions.” Fujifilm then produced an R&D printer called the 2831, which featured a printhead with 16 nozzles, a volume of about 1.5 milliliters and a fairly low cost of about $49,500 in the United States..

“You can test your processes with that, but the printhead with 16 nozzles is not adequate for manufacturing protocols due to limited throughput.

“The new machine’s stage accuracy is ±5 µm. It’s a much bigger instrument, secured with granite, which aids in stabilization. The other huge advantage is that not only does it take the small R&D print heads, but it also takes print heads with 128 nozzles. All of a sudden you can go from a small printhead appropriate for fluid formulation and move to an industrial manufacturing size printhead. It leads to setting up the process for production.”

Sumerel adds that the print heads are evolving to smaller drop volumes. The standard for industrial inkjet printheads is 80 picoliters, though some are capable of reaching 30 picoliters. “Our printheads have 10 and 8 picoliter drop volumes. That’s another big step in the right direction.”

The printer includes an integrated drop visualization system that captures droplet formation images dynamically, as droplet ejection parameters are adjusted to produce a tuned printhead and fluid combination. Also, the electronics allow the printhead to be calibrated on a per nozzle basis to compensate for any variability. A second camera system allows for substrate measurements and alignment, observations of fluid drying behavior, and droplet measurement and placement calculations.

“When you’re printing functional fluids you are spending a lot of time at a microscope watching droplet formation,” Sumerel says. “We have software that lets you examine the droplet stability, formation and appearance. These can be looked at and adjusted before printing. That’s what makes this machine an R&D machine, the ability to alter all of those parameters.”

The printer has been tested in the field and has earned positive reviews, particularly among academics. “The DMP-3000 printer from delivers a high-precision inkjet printing system that is ideally suited to meet the needs of printed electronics research and development activities,” says Vivek Subramanian, associate professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences at the University of California, Berkeley. “By combining high accuracy motion control with the well established quality, reliability, and scalability of Dimatix printheads in a compact, self-contained and easy to use unit, the DMP-3000 meets the needs of researchers in the area of printed electronics and related fields, and helps usher in the era of ubiquitous printed electronics.”

“The DMP-3000 fills the gap between experimental research and production equipment by having many printhead options, from a single nozzle ultra-small drop to high performance 128 channel printheads with drop volumes up to 35 picoliters with the required accuracy,” says Ulrich Schubert, director of the Institute for Organic Chemistry and Macromolecular Chemistry at the Friedrich-Schiller-University in Jena, Germany. “Thus, the rapid transfer of new inks and printing processes from the academic level to new applications can be performed, leading to a significant increase in the use of inkjet for printing of functional materials.”

A third endorsement comes from Ghassan Jabbour, director of research, optoelectronic materials and devices at the Flexible Display Center at Arizona State University. “The new DMP-3000 provides an increased printable area and higher stepping accuracy and repeatability. Also, having the flexibility to interchange printheads of varying drop sizes as needed is an important and unique advancement in this area.”

Multiple Fujifilm Dimatix printhead models, including the 1 and 10 picoliter DMP cartridge-based printheads and the SX3 and SE3 hybrid printhead models, are used interchangeably with the DMP-3000 printer.

The Dimatix Materials Cartridge is a snap-in replaceable printhead used with both DMP models and is available in 1 pL and 10 pL drop volumes. Based on Fujifilm Dimatix’ proprietary silicon MEMS technology, the 16-jet Dimatix Materials Cartridge is designed for high-resolution, non-contact jetting of functional fluids in a broad range of applications. The 1 pL cartridge can deposit features as small as 20 μm (20 millionths of a meter) to fabricate products such as organic thin-film transistors and printed circuits.

The SX3 Printhead is a highly compact, high performance hybrid jetting assembly designed specifically for micro-fluid deposition. The SE3 Printhead, similar to the SX3, is a compact, high performance hybrid jetting assembly designed for precise drop placement of a slightly larger drop.

Because cartridge printheads and high performance printheads can be used interchangeably within the same unit, scale-up from development to production can readily occur. This means that initial research, sample and process developments are translatable from the laboratory and can be used to specify prototype printing system design and development.

Sumerel says that the DMP-3000 was the focus of great enthusiasm at LOPE-C. “Everybody was super excited,” she says. “And the size is just right. Pricing for the DMP-3000 has not been established yet, she adds, but it probably will be in the $175,000 area.