Component Management

MIT printing technique enables flexible circuit stamping

2nd June 2017
Lanna Cooper


To create electronic devices like those in today’s mobile phones requires complex chemical and physical processes, not unlike those used to capture and develop images with film-based cameras.

Smart devices start with a series of etched circuit images projected onto a silicon photolithic surface that is then sucessively submerged in a series of chemical, metal, and acid ‘developer’ baths that take away layers of extraneous metal and silicon - and everything that isn’t, say, a microprocessor.

Think Michelangelo and his masterpiece sculpture, created, as it were, by chipping away everything that doesn’t look like David.

Now there’s an easier way, discovered by researchers at MIT who report in the current issue of Science Advances that they have invented a fast, precise printing process based on fabricating a ‘stamp’ made from ‘forests of carbon nanotubes’ that is able to print electronic inks onto rigid and flexible surfaces. It promises to make such electronic surfaces an inexpensive reality.

According to at MIT researchers, the team’s stamping process should be able to print transistors small enough to control individual pixels in high-resolution displays and touchscreens. The printing technique may also offer a relatively cheap, fast way to manufacture electronic surfaces for as-yet-unknown applications.

There is a huge need for printing of electronic devices that are extremely inexpensive but provide simple computations and interactive functions, researchers note. The new printing process is an enabling technology for high-performance, fully printed electronics, including transistors, optically functional surfaces, and ubiquitous sensors.

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