Flexible polymer circuits close to reality01 October 2006
Before long, polymer electronic circuits – microchips made from plastic that can be manufactured inexpensively using large-area printing processes – may be commonplace, writes Roger Bishop.
Researchers, developers and production specialists from the electronics industry are convinced this will be the case.
The technology has been demonstrated in concept form by the Fraunhofer Institute for Reliability and Microintegration. It requires a seven-step process.
The basic requirement is for a printing technique such as screen printing using the roll-to-roll processing of polymer films, a technique already used on an industrial scale. The demonstration involved the production of an all-polymer ring oscillator on 200mm wide roll of PET film with 0.5µm copper metallisation.
To achieve the flexible polymer transistors and logic circuits that have drain-source structures with a channel length of 20µm, the first step is the structuring of the copper metallisation. In the second step, the polymer semiconductor materials are deposited, then the polymer gate dielectric. After the screen printing of the gate electrode (step 4) and the application of the interdielectric (step 5), the vias are opened (step 6). Finally, the silver conducting paste is applied through screen printing.
Potential applications for the technology are widespread but include simple, flexible systems with active components (such as transistors, antennas, displays or batteries). For the automotive sector, the main attractions will be flexibility for packaging and low cost.
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