A Korean research team has developed a three-dimensional (3D) printing technology that can print a 0.001 mm sized ultrafine pattern to be used for the production of curved and flexible electronic circuits.
Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST) said on June 22 that a materials science and engineering research team led by Professor Park Jang-ung has succeeded in printing ultrafine, 0.001 mm wide patterns on plastic circuit boards at room temperature.
According to UNIST, it has been difficult for the industry to apply 3D printing technology to the field of electronic circuits, even though the technology has drawn much attention as a promising technology in the future.
Existing 3D printers cannot process anything below 0.1 mm. They also cannot properly handle circuit materials like metal or semiconductors, since they are run at a high temperature.
The new 3D printing technology called electrohydrodynamic inkjet (e-jet), which the research team developed this time, has overcome such limitations.
First of all, the team elevated the resolution for 3D printers up to the 0.001 mm level. The 3D printing equipment is designed for blots of ink to dry out before they reach the circuit boards, which enables the printed blots injected from the nozzle to be piled on top of each other, which reduces the minimum printing resolution to be 50 times less than before. As a result, the technology realizes ultra-fine 3D patterns as thin as 0.001 mm, which is thinner than a red blood cell.
The new technology also allows a broader selection of materials to be used in 3D printing at room temperature by lowering the printing temperature. Existing printers use high-temperature processing, and plastic boards easily melt at the high temperature. This means that the 3D printing of materials like textiles, fiber, or plastic, which can be attached to human skin, have become possible to produce electronic circuits for wearable devices.
The research achievements were published online in the German science and technology journal Advanced Materials on June 23.