Flexible Hybrid Electronics (FHE) have the ability to revolutionize decision making.
By combining electronics with high-precision printing, FHE provides flexible substrates with the ability to bend, twist, or stretch to curved and irregular shapes. The result is ‘smart’ applications with the ability to enhance decision making and efficiency of our world.
The medical industry is currently the largest consumer however, the demand is growing with an estimated $30B market to provide FHEs to individual consumers and industries such as:
The innovative applications of FHE seem limitless.
However, achieving mass production through a roll-to-roll (R2R) based manufacturing system requires changes to reliably mass generate a quality product for consumers at a reasonable cost.
Let’s look more closely at two major obstacles facing roll-to-roll manufacturing of FHE.
Two Major Obstacles for FHE R2R production
Manufacturing FHE brings with it unique and stringent requirements to print on and handle delicate silicone-based electronics. These requirements are typically the biggest hurdles between progressing a product from an R&D idea to full-scale production and dissemination.
Many R2R manufacturing systems use roller, tension, and spreader bars which can cause contamination and scratches. Contamination can cause loss of product and maintenance downtime, resulting in lower profits. If contamination is not properly managed, prices may rise potentially lowering consumer demand and impacting sales.
Additionally, FHE often employs concurrent coatings of the substrate, adding another level of complexity to managing contamination.
To understand the precision involved, let’s take an example of a small wearable patch for the human body that can be used by soldiers in the military to measure various biomedical information. Embedded in this small patch are at least the following:
- Communication interface and antennas
- Solar cell
Incorporating this many (and possibly more) components into just one patch requires great precision in production. Manufacturing a mass quantity on a web drives even greater precision. Not meeting these stringent precision requirements can result in:
- Poor quality
- Unreliable data
- Damage—ranging from one patch/device to a large swath of the web
These obstacles require non-contact and high-precision components within the conveyance equipment. Thankfully, proven technology is available to overcome these obstacles to put FHE in the hands of the everyday consumer.
Overcoming the Obstacles
Air bearing technology has been in use for more than 50 years providing frictionless solutions. Air bearings deliver a non-contact solution using pressurized air to provide the necessary gap. No contact means no friction which allows for greater precision
Another important side benefit of air bearings is the reduced maintenance over traditional ‘oil-based’ components. No downtime is required to periodically apply lubrication or replace parts due to friction wear.
There are two different types of traditional air bearings on the market, with the main differentiator being how the air is distributed.
- Orifice or grooved—air provided through one (or more) holes
- Porous Media-—air distributed through millions of sub-micron holes
These design differences become evident in the evenness of the air distribution. Orifice technology is known for exhibiting pressure gradients, which can result in contact with the substrate causing damage or contamination. With the use of porous media, the air is evenly distributed, ensuring there is never any contact. Additionally, the even air distribution available with porous media allows for surface averaging providing greater precision and performance.
A New Way to FHE Mass Production
- Photovoltaics (PVs)
- Flat Panel Display (FPD)
New Way’s Porous Media Technology is the foundation to all of its products to deliver Frictionless Motion®. Our porous carbon surface features millions of sub-micron holes, enabling a thin yet robust air film across the entire bearing surface, preventing contact with the substrate. This technology allows New Way products to offer a non-contact solution while delivering high-precision accuracy and repeatability.
New Way is no stranger to the contamination and precision concerns of the FHE industry. More than a decade ago, New Way revolutionized the Flat Panel Display (FPD) market through its air bars. At that time, the FPD market was struggling with damage from contact, resulting in loss of production and reduced profit. Implementing New Way air bars practically eliminated the contamination issues, increasing production and lowering product cost for the end consumer.
Recognizing the need for a similar solution in the expanding FHE market, New Way has created a suite of three non-contact web handling solutions.
Three Solutions for FHE roll-to-roll based production
New Way web-handling components are built on the same, proven Porous Media Technology to ensure non-contact, high-precision results. Any one or combination of these products can remove the common barriers of contamination and precision hindering the realization of FHE roll-to-roll based manufacturing.
- Air Turns
New Way Air Turns are a logical step from air bars which apply the same technology in a cylindrical fashion to move a variety of substrates through the roll to roll process.Similar to an idler roller, the web is wrapped over the air turn as the air is distributed over the entire cylindrical surface. Despite the name the air turn typically does not actually ‘turn’ but uses the pressurized air to ‘float’ the material. Air turns can be used in place of turn bars and are versatile enough to be used in a myriad of other applications within web handling.
- Thrust Bushings
New Way Thrust Bushings allow for radial motion but constrain one end axially to prevent linear motion in one direction. These bushings consist of a porous carbon sleeve and thrust face encased in an aluminum housing. Built with New Way’s Porous Media Technology, these thrust bushings provide the stiffness required to ensure consistent performance demanded by FHE production.
- Spherical Bearings
New Way Spherical Bearings are ideal for web roll-to-roll applications offered as an alternative to journal bearings. They support a sphere on a thin layer of air, providing Frictionless Motion. A vacuum preload coupled with uniform distribution of air offered through New Way Porous Media Technology can be added to maintain position. This ensures even greater accuracy and control as demanded by FHE roll-to-roll manufacturing.
Flex with Us!
Contamination and precision concerns can be overcome to make FHE commercial-scale production a reality. Applying our success in the FPD market, New Way is confident it has the non-contact solutions needed for FHE roll-to-roll based manufacturing.
Looking to spread the word on our differentiating Porous Media Technology, New Way took the opportunity to showcase these three web-handling solutions at this year’s Flexible Electronics Conference and Exhibition (2018FLEX). If you are ready to make your FHE production a reality, please contact us to see how we can help get you rolling!