20 Oct 2010   |   News

Fraunhofer IST: New method for manufacturing plastic thin films for flexible sensors

Researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Surface Engineering and Thin Films (IST) have developed a new reel-to-reel technology for the production of flexible circuits and biosensors.

They will be are presenting the new technology next week at K 2010, the international trade fair for plastics and rubber to be held in Dusseldorf from October 27 to November 3.

Flexible circuits and sensors are now found in many devices including cars, cameras and video equipment, body function monitors and inkjet printers. 

The scientists from the IST in Braunschweig have developed a reel-to-reel technology known as “P3T” (Plasma Printing and Packaging Technology), which involves considerably fewer process steps than existing processes, and conserves raw materials.

Unlike existing methods, it does not start with a polymer film that has a metal coating over its entire surface, from which excess metal is then removed to create the circuits. Instead, circuits made of copper, or palladium in the case of biosensors, are applied the film. The methods uses plasma at normal atmospheric pressure and galvanisation, instead of vacuum-pressure and laser-based methods, meaning the process is low-cost and makes efficient use of resources.

Michael Thomas, director of the research group at IST, said, “During production of circuits for an RFID antenna, you often have to etch away between 50 and 80 per cent of the copper used. This results in considerable amounts of copper scrap that either has to be disposed or reprocessed using relatively elaborate methods.”

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