InnovationLab and ISRA have developed a new additive manufacturing process for copper-based solderable circuits whose advantages represent a breakthrough.
The new process has several advantages at once: The production of printed electronics is based on an additive process. Firstly, no toxic etchants are required; secondly, the process runs at comparatively low temperatures of around 150 °C, so it is energy-saving; and thirdly, the substrates, which are up to 15 times thinner, reduce material consumption and lead to less production waste.
InnovationLab developed the screen printing process together with its partner ISRA as part of the Horizon 2020-funded SmartEEs2 research project. The process is compatible with conventional reflow processes.
InnovationLab has already produced a physical prototype containing the main components of a smart label. A copper ink was used to ensure high conductivity. Assembly can be done in a conventional reflow soldering process, allowing manufacturers to switch to the new technology without investing in new equipment.
Multi-layer printing of metal and dielectric was used to realize the desired functions: a low-power temperature sensor and logger, an NFC communication interface via a printed antenna, and a compact battery. This is charged via a printed solar cell, making the product completely self-sufficient. The new process can be used for standard and flexible printed circuit boards with up to four layers and can be used in product and process development for hybrid electronics.
"This is a new production process that will lower costs and reduce logistical dependence on suppliers. We expect to scale this process to high volumes by the end of this year so that we can meet customer demand for one million solderable traces or more," said Dr. Janusz Schinke, head of InnovationLab's printed electronics department.
SmartEEs2 is a European project funded by the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation program. The program aims to help innovative companies integrate flexible and wearable electronics technologies to boost the competitiveness of European industry.