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Posted: Sep 17, 2010
Bayer MaterialScience Develops Film Technologies for Printed Polymer Electronics
(Nanowerk News) Bayer MaterialScience has developed extensive technology know-how and a wide range of materials for customers who print polycarbonate films with electronic functions and process these into 3D electronic components using the film insert molding process.
"This printed polymer electronics technology is seen as a next-generation technology for delivering cost-effective production of highly integrated, complex molded electronic components," explains Dirk Pophusen, head of business development for functional films in the Europe, Middle East, Africa, Latin America region at Bayer MaterialScience.
According to forecasts by British market research company IDTechEx, the global market for polymer electronics is set to grow to almost USD 100 billion by 2020 and reach USD 250 billion just five years later. "We are looking to benefit from this with our film business and are committed to close collaboration with manufacturers of these electronic modules at all stages of component production. Our aim is to work together to develop customized solutions," says Pophusen.
Films offer various benefits in printed polymer electronics. They can be printed in a limited space with several electronic functions such as wiring diagrams, actuators, sensors and antennae, which previously had to be applied as separate components. Integrating these functions therefore cuts the number of parts required and the amount of logistical and assembly work. This results in compact, ready-to-install "all-in-one" electronic modules that require a minimum of space, thus reflecting the trend toward miniaturization in electronics.
Bayer MaterialScience has developed extensive technology know-how and a wide range of materials for customers who print polycarbonate films with electronic functions and process these into 3D electronic components using the film insert molding process. This printed polymer electronics technology is seen as a next-generation technology for delivering cost-effective production of highly integrated, complex molded electronic components.
New hardcoat film – thermoformable and resistant to abrasion and chemicals
The three-dimensional formable hardcoat film Makrofol® HF, for example, is a recent product innovation. The basis for the film's excellent formability – which also enables narrow radii and high depths of draw – is that the scratch-resistant coating is only pre-cured and is not completely cured with standard UV lamps until forming is finished. The polycarbonate film produces surfaces with a deep gloss finish that are highly resistant to chemicals and abrasion. When working with 3D display elements, for example, they are ideal for increasingly popular high-gloss piano finishes in combination with "vanish-effect" technologies. These make the contours of light symbols appear to vanish when these are switched off (Black Panel Technology).
Artificial muscles and luminescent 3D surfaces
Following the acquisition of Artificial Muscle Inc., Bayer MaterialScience also has the know-how to manufacture electrically activated, artificial muscles as actuators and sensors and integrate them into systems. For example, they make touchscreen fields "tangible" because they offer a tactile response when the display is touched. They are largely wear-resistant, unlike conventional mechanical buttons.
This creates considerable scope for use in areas such as manufacturing smartphones, games controllers and touchpads and automotive engineering. In conjunction with its partners, Bayer MaterialScience has developed the prototype for a large, one-piece 3D central console that integrates features such as a capacitative and electrically activated switch as a central control element. The component can be seen at Bayer MaterialScience's stand at the K 2010 plastics fair in Düsseldorf.
As well as electronic elements, the light "function" can also be integrated into appropriate 3D film components using the film insert molding (FIM) process. Conventional technologies with LEDs can also be used as a light source, and so too can large-area electroluminescent systems. In conjunction with Add-Vision Inc., for example, Bayer MaterialScience is currently working on printing flexible, polymer organic LEDs onto polycarbonate films. A bright future is forecast for these P-OLEDs in areas producing displays, for instance.
Conductive nano inks for flexible circuits
Bayer MaterialScience develops conductive and formable nano inks for use in areas such as printed polymer electronics under the BayInk® name. These can be applied digitally using conventional printing technology such as the ink-jet method. Depending on the process, it is possible to apply line widths with a resolution of less than 30 micrometers that are no longer visible to the human eye. This enables conductor tracks, contacts and electrodes to be applied much more easily and effectively than with conventional methods, which are mostly more complicated and more energy- and material-intensive. The inks adhere to a very wide range of plastic films such as Makrofol® and Bayfol® and other flexible materials, as well as to rigid substrates. The range of applications is wide – for example, as invisible conductor tracks they can be used to simplify the complex design of touchscreens.
Customized service along the entire process chain
"Our development partners benefit from the fact that our Technical Service Center for Films is equipped with state-of-the-art machinery and equipment covering every stage of the FIM process chain for producing printed polymer electronics," says Pophusen. For example, the Functional Films unit employs fully automatic screen printing systems, rapid prototyping and high-pressure forming (HPF) units that allow printed films to be thermoformed with minimal distortion. These systems have recently been joined by an HPF machine that can handle much larger film formats measuring up to 500 x 1,000 millimeters. The FIM process chain is rounded off by injection and injection-compression molding machines of various sizes that are equipped with the relevant facilities for film processing.