Reconsidering Inkjet Inks Opportunities26 Oct 2011 • by Natalie Aster
For the most part, this is what most of functional jetting is about at the present time; using industrial inkjet printers to create small devices or small parts of larger devices. Included in this class are applications as simple as printed silver interconnects between panels or devices, all the way through to completely printed computing chips.
This kind of functional inkjet can, in effect, be considered as an extension of a trend that has been around for decades in the form of thick-film printing of circuitry for membrane switches, automotive heaters and printed circuit boards (PCBs). It has also been the mainstay of photovoltaics; the silver grids that distribute the electricity from conventional (i.e., crystalline silicon) solar panels are printed using thick film techniques. Broadly, these otherwise disparate applications share the fact that they are created using screen printing and that they involve a fairly low level of patterning compared to what is the norm in the semiconductor industry.
The undoubted success of the thick-film type of functional printing helped fuel the discussions and activities of a few years ago around of the concept of “printed electronics” (PE). PE was a kind of functional printing that supposed to lead to printed devices that were much more complex/smaller than what thick-film technology was (and is) capable of. The hope of PE in general was that using printing instead of the classical fabrication technologies of the semiconductor industry would reduce the costs of manufacturing a wide range of devices including displays, sensors, PV panels, batteries, RFID chips, etc.
The argument behind this hope was that (1) printing is additive, supposedly lowering the operational and materials costs of fabrication and (2) printing machinery is, generally speaking, lower cost than classical vapor deposition and related patterning equipment used in the semiconductor industry. Although many kinds of printing were suggested or actually utilized as part of the PE paradigm, inkjet—because of its ability to finely pattern—has been frequently cited as the printing technology of choice for PE.
Functional Inkjet Inks for Digital Fabrication Applications -2011
Published: July 2011
Price: US$ 2,795.00
Inkjet and Fluid Micro-dispensing: Not Quite Printing
In essence, functional inkjet machines are devices that can accurately deliver small quantities of fluid without much wastage. This fact can be exploited by using inkjet as a dispensing tool and a market for doing just that has emerged. Typically, the use of functional inkjet for micro-dispensing applications is not just to place small amounts of material, but also where they must be dispensed in the form of fine structures such as micro-lines, micro-dots, and three-dimensional structures. Although micro-dispensing isn’t quite printing, this patterning aspect makes the line between microdispensing and printing quite small.
Using inkjet for micro-dispensing has a number of advantages and, of course, which of these advantages matters depends on the particular application. However, in general, where inkjet shines in this regard is that it is a non-contact printing method (and hence can dispense onto delicate substrates) and it has the ability to cover large areas. Additionally, it is an on-demand process and conducive for printing multi-layer devices.
The fluids for which functional inkjet has been used to date include a variety of biological materials along with some non-biological materials such as solders and adhesives. Within the biological sphere, inkjet is considered to be a good microdispensing technology for reagents, enzymes and other fluids that are deposited on biological substrates. Microdispensing using inkjet has been demonstrated with a wide range of viscosity and rheological properties.
Functional Fluid Making Opportunities for Inkjet
The five areas outlined above will present considerable opportunities for materials firms and ink makers to produce fluids suitable for jetting. None of the five areas are new. Nonetheless, NanoMarkets believes that functional jetting is about see a resurgence for a number of reasons.
One of the most important of these reasons is that industrial inkjet machines have now reached a speed where they can be deployed for serious manufacturing applications, although it is important to note that we are talking about the larger and more expensive machines here. Conversely, smaller and lower-cost machines, priced at well under $10,000 may open up the market to an entirely new kind of manufacturing—desktop manufacturing—that could parallel the success of the desktop publishing revolution of a couple of decades ago.
We also note that this isn’t the only important trend with which the process of functional inkjet may be aligned. For example, within the scope of functional jetting comes a broad range of biomedical applications, all of which make small contributions to the urgent need to improve healthcare. Also, some marketing experts see the need for industry and commerce to offer more customized products in the sophisticated markets of the developed world. Here again, functional inkjet can be of help.
We believe that there is plenty of room for ink and materials firms to tap into these opportunities. Eventually, these firms will start to offer off-the-shelf inks for functional inkjet, although this opportunity still seems to be one that will not produce significant revenue for quite some time to come; it will have to await the standardization of applications, which seems a long way off. For the time being, we think that most opportunities for materials are going to require some customizing for specific applications or even specific customers. Nonetheless, we have little doubt that these are real opportunities.
More information can be found in the report “Functional Inkjet Inks for Digital Fabrication Applications -2011” by NanoMarkets.
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