The microelectronics inside virtually any device – from the humble alarm clock to the most advanced electronic tablet – require enormous care, clean rooms, and costs to produce. Wouldn’t it be nice to just run a pattern of those complex interconnections through a copier and get the same result?
It would be like Michelangelo producing the Sistine Chapel ceiling with a few cans of spray paint. Crazy, right?
Well, no, actually. Thanks to some advanced thinking out in Oakland, microelectronics can now be printed onto virtually any surface with metallic ink, heated up, and converted into a system that can conduct electricity and carry out all the functions of a circuit board – faster, easier, cheaper, and with no drop-off in performance.
The home of this breakthrough technology is *Metalonix, a Carnegie Mellon University start-up company formed in January 2010 to provide chemical solutions to the nascent printed electronics market. Specifically, the company supplies molecular inks comprised of novel metal complexes that can be printed as either solutions or neat liquids.
These materials can then metalize, thermally or photochemically, to form highly conductive traces and structures on a variety of substrates, including flexible organic supports. This truly disruptive technology will further the field of printed electronics by providing low-cost, printable and disposable devices across a wide spectrum of technologies.
“The technology was developed in my lab by Dr. John Belot,” explained Dr. Richard McCullough, Vice President of Research at CMU. “John was my first grad student in my lab. He then went on to teach at University of Nebraska, but came back to CMU where he discovered the underlying technology that Metalonix was founded on.”
“We can make inks to print on any surface, allowing you to print metal on anything that has a circuit – copper, gold, silver, and so forth,” McCullough said. “This is something that’s never been done before to our knowledge. Today, before this technology, to try heat ink onto plastic would just melt the plastic.”
The Metalonix ink contains actual metal atoms, unlike competitive inks on the market that contain either nanoparticles or metal flakes, neither of which are present in the Metalonix inks. As a result, the Metalonix inks act as a bulk metal, yielding benefits such as:
- High conductivity – actually three times the conductivity of competitive metallic inks.
- Low conversion temperatures – allowing printing on a variety of surfaces, including flexible plastics.
- Instant conversion times – meaning that the Metalonix inks convert to metal in seconds.
- Precision printing – because they are not limited by particle size, Metalonix inks can be deposited in smaller sizes.
- Speed printing – meaning the inks can be deposited by various printing methods, including roll-to-roll and ink-jet.
Metalonix received a grant from the Pennsylvania NanoMaterials Commercialization Center to help develop the technology, and move it closer to large-scale commercialization. Since then, the company has grown from one to five employees. Metalonix also won honors as Most Promising Company and Best Presentation at the LOPE-C 2011 Conference earlier this year.
McCullough said Metalonix has met with numerous potential customers and partners in various markets, such as RFID, printed circuit board, and printed memory, receiving uniformly positive responses across the board.
“The most obvious applications for a metal ink manufacturer are within the printed electronic industry,” he said. “The key is that we fulfill the market’s biggest pain point, thus leading to a huge opportunity. There are endless possibilities to the uses of Metalonix’s metallic inks.”
For more information on the Pennsylvania NanoMaterials Commercialization Center and its portfolio of early stage companies, go to www.pananocenter.org.
*Metalonix is now Liquid X Printed Metals
Publish date: October 3, 2011
This article is courtesy of Pittsburgh Tech Council’s online TEQ magazine