Optomec has announced that the company was awarded a contract by the Air Force Research Lab to advance its Aerosol Jet technology for printed electronics. Under the contract Optomec will enhance its Aerosol Jet technology to enable large area printing of high performance Carbon Nanotube based Thin Film Transistors (TFTs)thereby expanding the application space for flexible electronics.
The main challenge limiting high volume flexible electronic applications is the lack of a room temperature, large area printing process for producing high performance TFTs and circuits on plastic substrates. Enhancements to Aerosol Jet Printing technology developed under this contract will address these limitations allowing an expanded range of new products such as large area conformal sensor arrays, programmable drug-delivery patches, and roll-up displays. Many of these applications will be of vital importance to the US military and will also have significant commercial potential.
Optomec Aerosol Jet Printers are used to directly print functional electronic circuitry and components onto low-temperature, non-planar substrates, without the need for masks, screens, or plating. The Aerosol Jet process utilizes an innovative aerodynamic focusing technique to collimate a dense mist of material-laden micro droplets into a tightly controlled beam to print features as small as 10 microns or as large as several millimeters in a single pass.
A number of Aerosol Jet system enhancements will be engineered under this contract including advanced ultrasonic atomization technology, new in-situ curing methods for sintering on low temperature substrates, and new process controls enabling sequential printing of 4 different materials with a single print job set-up. TFTs are made up of 4 layers each of which requires a different material. The enhanced Aerosol Jet printer will be equipped with 4 atomizers each containing a unique material and new software process controls to automatically switch between materials for printing each layer. In addition, each layer will be cured before the next layer is printed, all under software control. Professor Dan Frisbie, who serves as the Director of Graduate Studies for Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Minnesota, is supporting the project with materials development and device design and testing.