Purdue University’s roll-to-roll laser-induced superplasticity fabrication method is capable of printing metals at nano-scale levels. (Image credit: Purdue University)

 

Researchers from Purdue University have developed a new manufacturing technique that prints nano-scale flexible metals that’s similar to newspaper printing in an effort to make ultra-fast electronic devices. It’s a low-cost process that merges existing fabrication tools in the manufacturing industry with the speed and precision of roll-to-roll newspaper printing to smash through barriers that limit how fast electronic devices can operate and the heat that goes along with it.

 

The researcher’s theory is that the metal used to support the electrical circuits that run the devices are not the best option for the job. They believe that no matter the manufacturer, the surface of the metal, even though looking smooth to naked eyes, is actually rough; causing interference during the circulation of the electric current, which produces a small rise in temperatures. The more often the phenomenon occurs, the hotter the device becomes, which increases the risk of it failing. If that theory is correct, the researchers believe that the only solution is to manufacture the circuits in a way that facilitates more efficient travel of electricity.

 

Nano plaques of metal: results of the new printing method for electrical circuits, making them smoother and more flexible for efficient current flow. (Image credit: Purdue University)

 

Currently, the circuits are built by layering liquid metal inside a mold in the shape of the design desired. The better option would be to print the circuit using the same machine and technique used to print newspaper. They name their manufacturing technique “roll-to-roll laser-induced superplasticity,” which uses a rolling stamp similar to the one used to print newspapers combined with high-energy carbon dioxide laser shots, to make the metal much more elastic. Consequently, it will be easier to modify the metal into the shape necessary for the circuits without disrupting the surface of the metal.

 

Ramses Martinez, the leader of the research team, explained that manufacturing small circuits using this method will not only prevent heat buildup in mobile devices but also make them faster and help accelerate the manufacturing process while keeping costs low. Martinez believes this new manufacturing method could lead to new touchscreens outfitted with nanostructures that interact with light and generate 3D images, as well as cost-effective biosensors with increased sensitivity.

 

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