Partner network for roll-to-roll flexible electronics

16 April 2010

NeoDec’s conductive ink technology is a complementary technology to the competences of Holst Centre and its industrial partners and opens new routes to enable roll-to-roll manufacturing of flexible electronic devices such as OLED lighting foils

NeoDec, an Eindhoven-based spin-off company from the Eindhoven University of Technology, the Holst Centre, an open-innovation initiative by imec, and TNO, have announced their partnership on metallic inks for flexible electronics applications.

NeoDec’s conductive ink technology is a complementary technology to the competences of Holst Centre and its industrial partners and opens new routes to enable roll-to-roll manufacturing of flexible electronic devices, such as OLED lighting foils and smart packaging.

Flexible electronics is seen as a promising market with high growth potential in the coming decades. Several flexible electronics applications require cost-effective manufacturing of conductive structures, such as OLED lighting, thin-film photovoltaics on flexible substrates, smart packaging and smart cards. In contrast to the conventional silicon-based electronics, the incompatibility of the plastic substrates with high processing temperatures is considered to be one of the key challenges to be addressed.

For the anticipated flexible electronics applications, such as shunt lines for OLED and current collectors for thin-film photovoltaics, commonly used metallic inks require temperature-based post-curing. This to enhance the conductivity of the printed metallic structures to the required level. In particular in case of foil based electronics, the post-curing temperature is limited by the allowable processing temperature of the polymer substrates.

The patented NeoDec technology was developed at the Eindhoven University of Technology by two of NeoDec's co-founders. The technology enables cost-effective patterning of metallic structures based on their proprietary process. A special feature of this technology is the room-temperature post-curing for obtaining the highly conductive metallic structures. The NeoDec process is compatible with inkjet and rotary screen-printing, making it useful for high-throughput roll-to-roll manufacturing of plastic electronics.

The NeoDec proprietary technology will be further developed within the Holst Centre programme on printed structures. Within this programme, several routes are explored to manufacture conductive structures on flexible substrates. For this purpose, Holst Centre developed with its partners an in-house roll-to-roll research facility, which enables the process integration of new materials, process modules and tools in a semi-industrial environment.

Erwin Meinders, Programme Manager of Holst Centre, stated: “Already, Holst Centre recently announced new developments in the field of low-temperature, foil-compatible post-curing. NeoDec’s proprietary ink technology is a valuable addition to the existing eco-system and opens new possibilities for low-temperature roll-to-roll patterning of conductive structures. We are very happy to welcome NeoDec in Holst Centre and look forward to jointly exploring the potential of its technology for plastic electronics applications.”

Rob van den Akker, CEO of NeoDec, added: “The participation with Holst Centre enables us to accelerate the optimisation of our process. Furthermore, we can benefit from the knowledge, infrastructure and network Holst Centre offers, so as a small company we can play our role in the global market.”

The contract was signed between NeoDec and TNO, co-ordinating the Holst Centre programme on printed structures. The partnership will initially run for a period of two years.

Independent companies, such as IDTechEx and Nanomarkets, have forecast a growth of the market of printed electronics to $48 billion by 2017 and could even reach $300 billion by 2027. This potential comes from a combination of unique properties and the possibility to reduce the cost of electronics as a result of low cost materials and processing techniques.

Until recently, printing electrodes required thermal sintering (for a minimum 30 minutes at 150°C) of the inks to obtain the necessary conductivity. Not only does this increase the processing costs, it was also only possible to print electrodes on expensive speciality polymers, such as polyimide or polycarbonate, or suffer a low production yield, due to deformation of the devices.

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