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Air Turns: Delivering Contamination-Free Roll-to-Roll Manufacturing

Air Turns: Delivering Contamination-Free Roll-to-Roll Manufacturing


It plagues designers and producers of flexible, hybrid, and printed electronics.

While life-changing ideas for flexible electronics abound, manufacturers continue to search for innovative manufacturing methods to merge electronics with high-precision printing at a reasonable cost. Without the right components, mass production can quickly become cost prohibitive, ceasing the realization of transformational technology.

But what if there was a product that could resolve contamination issues and increase production yield?

New Way® Air Turns confidently offer a solution to these dilemmas for roll-to-roll based manufacturing.

With several web handling offerings, this blog is part of a series to explore each of New Way’s web handling products. Throughout the series we’ll:

  • Learn how each product works
  • Uncover the benefits of our foundational Porous Media TechnologyTM
  • Reveal the resultant improvements for roll-to-roll based manufacturing

Let’s begin the series by looking at Air Turns.

Air Turns 101

New Way has a 25-year history providing air bearing solutions to a variety of high-tech, precision-based industries, including Flat Panel Display (FPD,) metrology, semiconductor, and solar photovoltaics, just to name a few. At the heart of all our air bearing solutions is Porous Media Technology, offering a non-contact, no friction solution.

The air turn design is born out of the success of New Way Air Bars in the FPD industry. Recognizing the increasing demand for non-contact handling of flexible webs, air turns were created to provide non-contact conveyance in a cylindrical manner.

Air turns use a thin and stiff layer of pressurized air to convey a substrate throughout a 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, with no contact.

Differentiating Technology

What sets New Way Air Turns apart is how the air is distributed through the use of Porous Media Technology. This discriminating technology offers an even air distribution by issuing air through millions of sub-micron holes, ensuring the substrate doesn’t make contact as it is conveyed. Air turns offer air layer thickness between 50-500 µm suitable for a wide range of substrates.

Alternative air turn technologies often exhibit pressure gradients as a result of uneven air distribution, resulting in a greater chance of contact.

The benefits of the Porous Media Technology allow the air turns to be used in a variety of web applications:

  • Web Handling
  • Web Tension
  • Concurrent coating
  • De-wrinkling
  • Inspection/Analysis

Now that we understand how air turns work as well as their versatility, let’s look at how they are able to revolutionize roll-to-roll based manufacturing for flexible electronics.

3 Ways Air Turns are Revolutionizing Roll-to-Roll Manufacturing

  1. Eliminating Contamination

Standard rollers use oil/lubrication to minimize friction, but there is still contact. With every contact, contamination, or scratching of the substrate occurs, damaging all or a portion of the web. Other air turn designs are known to exhibit pressure gradients, potentially causing contact, resulting in unreliable operation. The inevitable contamination with these designs will affect overall product yield and the cost of production.

Not only do air turns use air to convey the substrate, but the distribution of air through the Porous Media Technology ensures evenness of lift to avoid contact resulting from pressure gradients.

Additionally, air turns provide the ability to apply coatings to both sides simultaneously, making operations twice as efficient.

  1. Less Maintenance

Traditional idle rollers require oil/lubrication and associated periodic maintenance. Additionally, wear occurs over time because of contact, eventually forcing the replacement of components. Downtime equates to less product yield.

Since there are no rotating components with air turns, maintenance is significantly minimized over traditional idle rollers. No friction and no wear means there are no lubrication requirements, allowing for increased operation time.

Additionally, air turns can be used in place of turn bars, tension bars, and spreader bars. Increased use of this versatile component offers a decrease in maintenance downtime, allowing for greater production time.

  1. Increased Stability

Stability is critical to the high-precision printing requirements present in this era of flexible electronics production.

Standard roller bearings emit vibration. Even alternative air turn technologies, like orifice compensation, can create instability and vibration because of the limited number of holes/grooves for air distribution. Both of these situations cause either production infeasibility or inefficiency.

With even air pressure and no rotating components, New Way Air Turns are able to operate at a micron-level surface stability, offering a reliable, precise solution for conveyance for roll-to-roll based manufacturing.

A component offering just any one of these improvements to roll-to-roll manufacturing would be notable and worth considering. As a product that solves all three simultaneously, air turns become a necessary component to ensure an efficient and reliable roll-to-roll based manufacturing line capable of advancing an idea from prototype to mass production.

Rolling right along…..

Merging the semiconductor world with traditional printing approaches requires changes to the traditional roll-to-roll manufacturing processes and components. Flexible substrates present unique challenges, calling for just as unique solutions.

Read more about a company, IBS Precision Engineering, who recognized the need for a unique solution. This E-book entitled ‘‘Improving R2R Processing with Air Turns” features a Q&A with Dirk Smits, Sales Manager and Air Turn Expert for IBS. Smits addresses each of the attributes discussed, leading to why IBS chose New Way Air Turns for their applications.

If you are ready to join the movement with air turns and advance your roll-to-roll based manufacturing, tell us more about your application so we can help you get started! Or contact us today for a complimentary consultation so we can help identify how to keep your production rolling.

Stay tuned for the next blog in our series featuring Spherical Air Bearings for web handling!

Learn More About the Porous Media Difference