New Printing Process Could Enable Flexible Devices and Bendable Displays

Achievement date: 
2015
Outcome/accomplishment: 

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.

Impact/benefits: 

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.

Explanation/Background: 

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.