Xerox is to jump-start industry commercialisation of silver ink by providing printed electronics materials that easily print on plastics, film and textiles.
Printable electronics offer manufacturers a low-cost method of placing computing power on a range of surfaces from fabric to plastic.
“Printable electronics paves the way for a number of applications,” says Rob Abraham, MD of Bytes Document Solutions, authorised Xerox distributor to 24 sub-Saharan countries. “Smart pill bottles will be able to track how much medication a patient has taken. People will be able to roll up display screens and put them in their briefcases. This technology means that electronic clothing and inexpensive games could be a reality today.”
Until now, bringing low-cost electronics to the masses has been hindered by the logistics and costs associated with silicon chip manufacturing; the breakthrough low-temperature silver ink overcomes the cost hurdle, printing reliably on a wide range of surfaces such as plastic or fabric. As part of its commercialisation initiatives, Xerox plans to aggressively seek interested manufacturers and developers by providing sample materials to allow them to test and evaluate potential applications.
Integrated circuits are made up of three components – a semiconductor, a conductor and a dielectric element – and currently are manufactured in costly silicon chip fabricating factories. By creating a breakthrough silver ink to print the conductor, Xerox has developed all three of the materials necessary for printing plastic circuits.
Using Xerox’s new technology, circuits can be printed just like a continuous feed document without the extensive clean room facilities required in current chip manufacturing. In addition, scientists have improved their previously developed semiconductor ink, increasing its reliability by formulating the ink so that the molecules precisely align themselves in the best configuration to conduct electricity.
The printed electronics materials, developed at the Xerox Research Centre of Canada, enable product manufacturers to put electronic circuits on plastics, film, and textiles. Printable circuits could be used in a broad range of products, including low-cost radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, light and flexible e-readers and signage, sensors, solar cells and novelty applications, including wearable electronics.
“We will be able to print circuits in almost any size from smaller custom-sized circuits to larger formats such as wider rolls of plastic sheets – unheard of in today’s silicon-wafer industry,” says Hadi Mahabadi, vice-president & centre manager of Xerox Research Centre Canada. “We are taking this technology to product developers to enable them to design tomorrow’s uses for printable electronics.”