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 commercialization 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 tags, light and flexible e-readers and signage, sensors, solar cells and novelty applications including wearable electronics.
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The possibilities range from printing on flexible plastic (opening the door to displays you can roll up and put your briefcase), to paper and cardboard (for packaging that can give audio and video instructions for assembling a product, provide active reminders to take medicine or confirm whether you already took it), to fabric (which could allow wearable electronics – a T-shirt with a display, say, replacing a printed slogan for marketing or for showing support for a political candidate.).
"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," said Hadi Mahabadi, vice president and center manager of Xerox Research Centre Canada, in a statement.
Xerox says it could bring the cost of RFID tags down from the current dollar or so each to roughly a penny each