Clemson University, PARC Receive Award from FlexTech Alliance to Transfer Functional Printing from Laboratory to Commercial Scale

Posted on January 7, 2013 @ 11:19 am

FlexTech Alliance announced an award to the Sonoco Institute at Clemson University and PARC, a Xerox company, to explore the process technology required to scale up and print functional devices using a commercial printing press.

The partners will leverage their combined knowledge to enhance U.S. capability and facilitate the development of gravure printing processes. Gravure printing of electronics is of significant interest due to its ability to print high-resolution features and thin layers having uniform morphology. Long term, the project will engage a growing number of material makers, press manufacturers, printers and companies applying printed electronics technology.

The main goals of the project consist of transferring and optimizing printing technology from lab scale to a commercial printing press. This includes investigating and reporting on process capabilities, variability and requirements of integrated roll-to-roll printing; translating existing laboratory printed electronics design rules to roll-to-roll gravure; and demonstrating functional devices built with large-scale, roll-to-roll processes. The partners will focus in particular on the limits and needs of gravure printing in terms of image carriers, the required functional inks, and design rules for scale up and industrial printing of electronics.

“This project will provide the printed electronics industry with significant data on the process variability and resulting characteristics of printed devices,” said Jennifer Ernst, executive vice president of Thin Film Electronics and project leader for FlexTech Alliance. “The project will be making important contributions to the design rules for commercial scale-up of electronic device libraries.”

"One of the most significant challenges for scaling up small scale laboratory results is the amount of material required (often several liters or more) to use commercial printing equipment," said Bruce E. Kahn of Clemson University, technical leader of the project." One of the key aspects of this project is reducing the amount of materials required for high volume printing, thereby enabling the use of expensive or limited quantity materials for printed electronics".

“We are delighted to take part in this project with the Sonoco Institute at Clemson University and Flex Tech Alliance,” said Gregory Whiting, the project technical leader at PARC. “PARC has over 10 years experience developing printed electronic systems focusing primarily on producing devices at the prototype scale. Through this partnership we will use our expertise in device design combined with Clemson's knowledge of large-scale, roll-to-roll printing systems to bring complex printed electronic devices closer to manufacturing.”

The collaborative project will span laboratory and high-volume commercial scale printing processes 20 inches wide and up to 660 feet per minute. A set of designs will be built for lab scale testing and another for press operation. Some of these designs will be obtained from the PARC library of ink-jet components. Various functional inks will be tested for compatibility on the laboratory-scale equipment at PARC. Press trials will be conducted at Clemson with gravure cylinders and possibly flexographic plates. The printed devices will be characterized at PARC for their electronic functionality.

The FlexTech Alliance R&D program is supported by the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL), based in Adelphi, MD.


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