New Printing Process Could Enable Flexible Devices and Bendable Displays
Researchers at the NSF-funded Nanosystems Engineering Research Center (NERC) for Nanomanufacturing Systems for Mobile Computing and Mobile Energy Technologies (NASCENT), headquartered at the University of Texas at Austin, have developed a process that scales down the cell size in silicon microfabrication to an unprecedented resolution at high printing speeds, while maintaining excellent control over the cell shape and roll surface.
This process breaks down the scale barrier that is a limitation of traditional gravure printing. This provides a process to make curved templates for rollers or belts for nanoprint lithography. This has direct applications for printed electronics that promises to enable low-cost, lightweight, large-area flexible electronic devices such as bendable displays or low-cost sensor networks.
This new process addresses NASCENT’s thrust of creating high-throughput and versatile nanomanufacturing systems for mobile devices. The ERC used photolithography and standard etching processes to fabricate a silicon printing plate, and formed a negative of this silicon master using polymer molding. The actual metal printing plate was then built on the polymer negative by a combination of electro-less and electroplating. After separating the polymer and metal, the metal printing plate was mounted on a magnetic roll for sheet-fed or roll-to-roll printing. This process holds particular promise because it combines high resolution with the high speed of gravure printing.