Perdue University researchers have developed a manufacturing technique for creating electronics that is very similar to the way newspapers are printed. The new technique creates smoother and more flexible metals necessary to create ultrafast electronic components.
The technique uses tools that are already used to manufacture metals. This means that the new technique is low cost. It uses the same basic method that is part of the roll-to-roll newspaper printing process. The method removes the fabrication barriers that have stopped electronics production from being a speedy and efficient process.
Currently, the metal fabrication techniques being used in circuit production are time-consuming. A thin rain of liquid metal drops passes through a stencil mask in the shape of a circuit.
"Unfortunately, this fabrication technique generates metallic circuits with rough surfaces, causing our electronic devices to heat up and drain their batteries faster," said Ramses Martinez, assistant professor of industrial engineering and biomedical engineering.
Future devices are going to require smaller metal components that need a higher resolution to produce the necessary circuits at the nanoscale level.
"Forming metals with increasingly smaller shapes requires molds with higher and higher definition until you reach the nanoscale size," Martinez said. "Adding the latest advances in nanotechnology requires us to pattern metals in sizes that are even smaller than the grains they are made of. It's like making a sand castle smaller than a grain of sand."
The limit to formability prevents companies from producing the materials for electronics at a high speed with a nanoscale resolution.
The researchers have fixed these issues with the new, large-scale fabrication method. The new method forms smooth metallic circuits at the nanoscale with conventional carbon dioxide lasers.
The new fabrication method is called roll-to-roll laser-induced superplasticity. It uses a rolling stamp to create a brief “superelastic” behavior on different metals and applied high-energy laser shots that enable the metal to flow into the nanoscale features of a rolling stamp.
"In the future, the roll-to-roll fabrication of devices using our technique could enable the creation of touch screens covered with nanostructures capable of interacting with light and generating 3D images, as well as the cost-effective fabrication of more sensitive biosensors," Martinez said.
The paper on the new method was published in Nano Left.