XENON’s Printed Electronics Testing Network Offers Expertise in Wide Range of PE Disciplines
By David Savastano
Entrepreneurs working on new projects utilizing printed electronics can find the process daunting. Often, they are matching new substrates and materials, and the choice of a manufacturing process in itself is challenging, as there is a huge difference between R&D and production.
In reality, it can take years for companies to determine what actually works, and time is always of the essence.
To help these innovators navigate the many challenges they face, a group of companies and universities have formed the Printed Electronics Testing Network (PETN). Formed by Xenon Corporation, this network is offering companies and universities the opportunity to come into their facilities, learn if their applications will work and offer advice on possible improvements.
The goal of the Printed Electronics Testing Network is to support research and development, share knowledge across the network, and through these efforts, to advance the practical use of printed electronics in commercial applications.
“Our past business models have shown that by working closely on a global basis with critical technologies required for achieving successful R&D for emerging markets, one can establish test centers that can expedite proof of concept in a relatively short time at a very cost effective approach,” said Louis Panico, CEO at Xenon Corporation.
“The Printed Electronics Testing Network immediately provides a technical collaboration of multi-formulation, dispensing companies and integrators with high energy ‘pulsed light’ sources for addressing key issues of PE process development and manufacturability,” Panico added.
The PETN members have a wide range of disciplines, beginning with Xenon Corporation’s sintering capabilities, which convert the printed ink layer into a solid uniform layer of conductive material through the use of pulsed light, as well as inks, printers and more.
“Xenon’s strongest capability is providing the equipment and technology for “Pulsed Light” sintering of metallic inks for the printed electronic markets,” Panico said. “Xenon brings five decades of experience in “Pulsed Light” technology to facilitate the development and manufacturability of printed electronics products. We have thousands of pulsed light systems operating 24/7 on worldwide production lines.”
Xenon’s sintering systems are available at all of the PETN facilities. Companies interested in joining the PETN can contact Xenon, and those who are interested in testing can contact Xenon at LAPanico@xenoncorp.com.
“We are seeing an abundance of requests for the Testing Network from end-users and machine makers,” Panico said. “The quantity of application testing requests is growing exponentially. The biggest challenge is bringing the printed electronics market from the R&D stage to meeting the needs of a variety of R2R processes, specifically substrate adhesion and metallic ink thickness.”
Intrinsiq Materials manufactures nanoparticle-based screen and inkjet inks. Dr. Sujatha Ramanujan, chief operating officer for Intrinsiq Materials, said there is a lot to consider when it comes to developing printed electronics applications.
“When people want to test out their systems, we invite them to come in and work with our engineers,” Dr. Ramanujan said. “There is a lot of interaction between substrates, inks and sintering, and we want to find out the best solution that the customer will know works. If you send an ink without a clear explanation of what to do, it’s not very useful. “
Methode Electronics offers conductive inks, dielectrics and resistive carbon technologies that can be printed by screen, flexo, gravure and inkjet. Paul Lindquist, business development manager at Methode Electronics, said that while a few sectors of printed electronics, such as screen printing polymer thick films, have been around a significant time, a vast majority of the printed electronics market is emerging.
“The various contributing components are not as well understood and substrate, ink, curing and printing technologies are far more sensitive in the printed electronics market then traditional printing,” Lindquist noted. “This makes it very critical for co-suppliers to the market to collaborate to enable solutions for end users. Methode Electronics Inc. joined the Printed Electronic Testing Network because, like Xenon, we saw the need for this collaboration to help the printed electronics market emerge.”
Lindquist noted that the company has spent a significant amount of development time on ink interaction with the substrates, curing and printing mechanisms.
“We are capable of printing conductive circuitry on porous and non-porous substrates and have worked with co-suppliers to be able to offer a total solution to our customer base, making it easier for the customer to put the process to work for them,” Lindquist said. “The challenges from end-users range from initial feasibility, building prototypes, meeting standards that have been based on a different means of creating the circuit, cost requirements although way to taking the plunge to invest in capital equipment for a production line. In almost all applications, the end-user are either innovators or early adopters and change is always difficult.”
Dr. Rich Baker, president of Integrity Industrial Ink Jet Integration, an inkjet specialist, said that working with customers is a far better approach than simply handing them a test kit and sending them on their way without guidance.
“Instead of giving clients toolkits, we want to work with customers to develop the process,” said Dr. Baker. “The reality is that test kits have nothing to do with the manufacturing process. There are so many different fluids, substrates and applications that people will take years and make many mistakes along the way.
“Together, we can offer our expertise to help our customers determine what will work best for their application,” Dr. Baker said. “We feel we can work with our partners in the Test Network to come up with complete solutions. It's a great idea.”
“To end-users determining if a printed electronics solution is suitable for their application, it can be a very daunting task that requires a lot of ‘in house’ expertise,” Lindquist added. “The advantage of the Printed Electronics Testing Network is that it minimizes the contact points to determine if an application is feasible. For the members, having any collaboration which speeds up the adoption of printed electronics is good for the group overall. The more successes in the market, the greater the opportunities that will follow.”
SonoPlot specializes in material deposition technology, including its Microplotters, which are R&D scale devices. Glen Donald, CEO of SonoPlot, said the collaborative nature of the PETN partners is benefitting customers.
“We are developing relationships with ink vendors to create custom products that fit our customers’ needs,” said Donald. “We are able to develop complete solutions that customers can take home with them.”
“Now that we have a good curing solution we can help people who are using flexible substrates,” added Dr. Brad Larson, SonoPlot’s chief technology officer. “With Xenon, we can work with a wide range of inks and cure them in a matter of minutes. We have had several people come to us looking to enhance their operations or to develop new applications.”
The printed electronics industry is worldwide, and the testing network also spans the globe. For example, Peter Schullerer of Polytec, a specialist in measuring instruments, said that his company is seeing rapidly growing interest in printed electronics in Europe. He added that it is good to have the chance to offer photonic sintering expertise directly to customers.
“We see rapidly increasing interest coming from universities and institutes and more and more from the R&D departments in industry,” Schullerer said. “The Printed Electronics Testing Network brings the photonic sintering knowledge and testing capabilities much closer to the customer. As a member, we profit having an even closer connection to the end customers.
“Our customers keep us and our lab very busy,” Schullerer added. “One challenge for us is the huge variety of printed materials, printing techniques and substrates our customer bring for testing purposes.”
Gianluigi Guarato, product manager for Elexind s.r.l., said that printed electronics is a new, exciting business opportunity, and being part of this network helps him become more acquainted with evolutions of this technology.
“Networking always offers great advantage of cross fertilization and sharing of developments,” Mr. Guarato said. “We see the market growing linearly until 2016, then in 2017 it will grow even more, and near exponential until 2020.”
“There is a lot of development going on,” said Mark Dahlin, senior engineer, TEXMAC Inc., which works with Newlong Screen Printing, a screenprinting equipment manufacturer whose machines run the gamut from R&D to roll-to-roll for production. “We can screenprint conductive ink on circuit boards, and Xenon can sinter it immediately. This demonstrates to customers how they can use printing and sintering hand in hand.”
The ability to learn from partners and customers is a benefit for PETN members. Dr. Ramanujan said that the network is already paying dividends for customers and partners alike.
“We’ve had clients come in already and test their applications,” Dr. Ramanujan said. “It also helps us learn a lot about what our customers are working on.”
Lindquist said that Methode feels that there will be tremendous growth in the printed electronics market, but acceptance of new technologies takes time. He added that PETN will help end-users develop new products.
“Some sectors will adapt the technology at a faster pace and in others it may not make a dent,” Lindquist said. “Collaborations among co-suppliers such as the Printed Electronics Testing Network as well as increased development and end-user awareness will increase the opportunities and contribute to further growth in the printed electronics market.”
Panico noted that Xenon Corporation is seeing growth in the printed electronics market, with more than 50 installations worldwide at printed electronics sites, many at various stages of moving towards production. She added that Xenon expects 50 additional installations in 2013, and so far, the company is on track.
“We are very optimistic about printed electronics and plan to continue investing heavily in our engineering programs to support this exciting market,” Panico concluded.