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Roll-to-Roll Coating Technology: It’s a Different Ball of Wax

Monday, April 18th, 2016

Compiled and edited by Jeff Dorsch, Contributing Editor

Manufacturing flexible electronics and coatings for a variety of products has some similarities to semiconductor manufacturing and some substantial differences, principally roll-to-roll fabrication, as opposed to making chips on silicon wafers and other rigid substrates. This interview is with Neil Morrison, senior manager, Roll-to-Roll Coating Products Division, Applied Materials.

1. What are the leading market trends in roll-to-roll coating systems?

Neil Morrison: Several market trends are driving innovations in roll-to-roll technology and barrier films.  One is the flexible electronics market where we see the increasing use of film-based components within displays for portable electronic devices such as smartwatches, smartphones, tablets and laptops.

The majority of these passive applications are for anti-reflection films, optical polarizers and hard coat protected cover glass films.

Examples of active device applications include touch sensors. Roll-to-roll vacuum processing dominates this segment through the use of low-temperature deposited, optically matched layer stacks based on indium tin oxide (ITO). Roll-to-roll deposition of barrier film is also increasing with the emergence of quantum dot-enhanced LCD displays and the utilization of barrier films in organic light-emitting diode (OLED) lighting.

In addition to the electronics industry, roll-to-roll technology is used for food packaging and industrial coatings. What’s new today for food packaging is consumers want to be able to view the freshness of the food inside the packaging. Given this, the use of both aluminum foil and traditional roll-to-roll evaporated aluminum layers is slowly being phased into vacuum-deposited aluminum oxide (AlOx) coated packaging.

Within the industrial coatings market segment, significant growth is being driven by the use of Fabry-Perot color shift systems for “holographic” security applications, such as those used to protect printed currency from counterfeiting. This requires the use of electron-beam evaporation tooling to deposit highly uniform, optical quality dielectric materials sandwiched between two metallic reflector layers.

2. What are the leading technology trends in roll-to-roll coating systems?

Neil Morrison: Roll-to-roll coating is being extended to the display industry through the use of higher optical performance substrates with enhanced transmission, optical clarity and color neutrality. These materials are typically more difficult to handle than traditional polyethylene terephthalate (PET) substrates due to inherent properties and the properties of the primer and/or hard coat layers used to treat or protect their surface.

The majority of displays used in mobile applications are moving to thinner substrates, to reduce the “real estate” within the display and enable thinner form factor products and more space for larger batteries.

At the technology level, roll-to-roll sputter tooling dominates the touch panel industry with continual improvements in substrate handling, pre-treatment and inline process monitoring and control. Roll-to-roll chemical vapor deposition (CVD) equipment has also entered the marketplace to address high barrier requirements and to reduce cost compared with traditional sputter-based solutions. Roll-to-roll CVD technology is still in its infancy but is expected to become more prevalent in the near future within the barrier and hard coat market segments.

In the display industry, defect requirements are becoming more and more stringent and are moving towards metrics previously unseen in the roll-to-roll industry.

3. How would you best and briefly describe the Applied SmartWeb, Applied TopBeam, and Applied TopMet systems?

Neil Morrison: The Applied SmartWeb roll-to-roll modular sputtering or physical vapor deposition tool is used to deposit metals, dielectrics and transparent conductive oxides on polymeric substrates for the touch panel and optical coating industry. Its high-precision substrate conveyance system permits winding of polymeric substrates down to thickness levels of ~23 microns at speeds of up to 20 meters/minute depending upon the application. Up to six process compartments with separate gas flow control and pumping allow the deposition of complex layer stacks within a single pass.

Our Applied TopBeam system is a roll-to-roll e-beam evaporation tool used to deposit dielectrics on substrate thicknesses as low as 12 micron and at speeds up to approximately 10 meters/second.  Key to the tool is Applied’s unique electron-beam steering and control system, which provides excellent layer deposition and uniformity at exceptionally high processing speeds by permitting uniform and stable heating of the evaporant material  over the entire width of the substrate.

The Applied TopMet is a high-productivity roll-to-roll thermal evaporation platform available for depositing Al and AlOx layers on substrates down to 12 microns in thickness and is used primarily for food and industrial packaging.

Applied SmartWeb (Source: Applied Materials)

4. Who are Applied’s leading competitors in this market?

Neil Morrison: Other companies in the roll-to-roll market include Von Ardenne, Leybold Optics (Buehler), Schmid, Ulvac and Kobelco.

5. How big is the worldwide market on annual basis?

Neil Morrison: It is difficult to accurately size the entire roll-to-roll market because of the wide variety of applications across multiple industries from flexible electronics to food packaging. Just estimating the size of the market within the flexible electronics category alone is tough because there are three areas that combine to make up the current flexible electronics market – OLEDs for flexible displays, flexible printed circuit boards, and flexible touch panels for phones and tablets. And with applications continuing to grow, it is difficult to provide a specific market size.

Solid State Technology: August 7-14, 2015

Monday, August 24th, 2015
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Solid State Watch: August 14-20, 2015

Friday, August 21st, 2015
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Solid State Watch: July 24-30, 2015

Thursday, July 30th, 2015
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Conference features the latest in flexible display technology

Thursday, June 4th, 2015

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By Jeff Dorsch, Contributing Editor

At Display Week 2015, bigger is better. Smaller is better. And flexible may be best of all, for the era of wearable electronics.

There are some huge screens on display, so to speak, throughout the conference’s exhibition floor, such as BOE Technology Group’s 110-inch 8K Ultra High Definition television or LG Display’s curved 77-inch 4K UHD TV. There are also very small displays, such as E Ink’s smallest electronic shelf labels.

Many new developments can be viewed in the rows of exhibits, such as displays made with quantum dots. Of the 74 sessions in the technical program, at least eight are devoted to flexible displays (including one on electronic paper) or wearable displays.

A seminar on Monday, June 1, titled “Major Issues of AMOLED Displays: Challenges of Flexible OLED Displays and OLED TV” and given by Professor Jun Souk of Hanyang University, Seoul, South Korea, attracted a standing-room-only audience. Thursday, June 4, will see a day-long Market Focus Conference on Wearable-Flexible, with presentations by ARM Holdings, Google, Intel, and other companies.

Sri Peruvemba, chief executive officer of Marketer International, said Tuesday, June 2, that flexible, foldable, and even rollable displays are among the top trends this year at the Society for Information Display conference. The tantalizing prospect of flexible displays has been around for some years, and “I hope it will happen before I retire,” he said.

While E Ink gets most of its revenue from displays for electronic readers, such as the Amazon Kindle, it is active in flexible displays, too, for such applications as smartwatches, according to Giovanni Mancini, the company’s senior director and head of global marketing. For larger form factors, E Ink offers its Mobius active-matrix, thin-film transistor displays, developed in conjunction with Sony. Mobius displays weigh less than half of comparably-sized glass-based electronic paper displays, according to E Ink.

C3nano, a venture-funded startup based in Hayward, California, is completing its emergence from stealth mode with a booth at the SID conference. The company is touting the use of silver nanowires in flexible materials as an alternative to utilizing indium tin oxide. CEO Cliff Morris said C3nano chose silver nanowire technology, based on work from Professor Zhenan Bao’s chemical engineering laboratory at Stanford University, to produce transparent conductive transfer films and inks in its Activegrid line. The company on Monday announced a joint development partnership with Hitachi Chemical.

“Non-ITO transparent conductors are not only replacing ITO, but also provide functions that ITO cannot,” Jennifer Colegrove, CEO and principal analyst at Touch Display Research, said in a statement.

Morris said carbon nanotube nanowires are stronger than silver nanowires, yet don’t offer the clarity and transparency of their silver counterparts. And silver is easily available as a source material, he noted.

Corning had a number of product introductions at the show, including its new Lotus NXT Glass for high-performance displays. The company was also exhibiting its flexible Willow Glass, which can be mounted on a carrier glass with its proprietary bonding solution to provide curved displays for cellphones and other mobile devices.

Flexible displays – they could be coming to your smartphone, laptop, or tablet computer in the near future.

Intel CEO looks to 3D tech at display conference

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2015

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By Jeff Dorsch, Contributing Editor

Intel CEO Brian Krzanich touted the capabilities of his company’s RealSense technology in a keynote address today at the Society for Information Display conference in San Jose, California.

In the five decades of Moore’s Law, named for the Intel co-founder, “computing has really had one trajectory,” Krzanich said – smaller, more personal, and more connected.

With the advent of wearable gadgets, implemented with Intel’s Curie module, “personal is at a new level,” he noted. “Displays are more personal and more connected.”

The devices of today, such as smartphones and tablet computers, “are dumb displays,” he asserted. “Everything you do is flat.”

While the advent of touch displays has freed users from computer mice and keyboards, the display remains “2D, flat,” Krzanich noted.

The next step is to make computers able to “see and hear like a human,” he said. “For humans, everything is 3D.”

He added, “That future is not too far off.”

Speech recognition has been in development for some time and has demonstrably advanced, Krzanich said. “When you can hear but not see, you’re only halfway there,” he added.

The Intel chief then held up a RealSense module, which is 3.75 millimeters in thickness. It can be embedded in the top bezel of a laptop computer, among other applications, he noted.

Intel is making its RealSense software development kit available at intel.com/realsense, and “all of these APIs are free,” Krzanich said.

The chip company has been working with such companies as Disney, Lego, and Food Network to develop RealSense applications, he added.

“RealSense cameras enable a new video experience, a much more immersive experience,” Krzanich said. “The computer starts to see the world as you and I do.”

Moving beyond consumer applications, Intel is now working on industrial and professional apps, according to Krzanich.

He demonstrated how a device with a RealSense camera could complete a three-dimensional scan of his body in about 30 seconds, and showed off a bust of himself made with a 3D printer.

This was followed by a demonstration of putting a virtual Brian Krzanich into a video game, where the figure ran and did handsprings and backflips. “If only I could do this in real life,” he joked.

Krzanich also demonstrated how RealSense can work with augmented reality, repeating a demo done at the International Consumer Electronics Show in January, where a virtual piano appeared in mid-air and could be played. With some help, he showed how a virtual secondary screen could materialize in mid-air and could employ AR for a variety of applications.

Krzanich appealed to the keynote attendees to take advantage of the free RealSense SDK.

“We want you to create something bigger and better,” he concluded. “We need help.”

Solid State Watch: April 10-16, 2015

Friday, April 17th, 2015
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Solid State Watch: March 6-12, 2015

Friday, March 13th, 2015
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Blog review March 9, 2015

Monday, March 9th, 2015

Pete Singer is delighted to announce the keynotes and other speakers for The ConFab 2015, to be held May 19-22 at The Encore at The Wynn in Las Vegas. The line-up includes Ali Sebt, President and CEO of Renesas America, Paolo Gargini, Chairman of the ITRS and Subramani Kengeri, Vice President, Global Design Solutions at GLOBALFOUNDRIES.

Mark Simmons, Product Marketing Manager, Calibre Manufacturing Group, Mentor Graphics writes about cutting fab costs and turn-around time with smart, automated resource management. He notes that the competition for market share is brutal for both the pure-play and independent device manufacturer (IDM) foundries. Success involves tuning a lot of knobs and dials. One of the important knobs is the ability to continually meet or exceed aggressive time-to-market schedules.

Paul Stockman, Commercialization Manager, Linde Electronics blogs that there is an increasing demand for and focus on sustainable manufacturing that will contribute to a greening of semiconductors. This greening must be robust and responsive to change and cannot constrain the individual processes or operation of a fab.

Applied Materials’ Max McDaniel writes on the quest for more durable displays. He says the same innovators who created such amazingly thin, light and highly functional smartphones (with the help of Applied Materials display technology) are already developing durability improvements that may eliminate the need for protective covers.

Batteries? We don’t need no stinking batteries, says Ed Korczynski. We’re still used to thinking that low-power chips for “mobile” or “Internet-of-Things (IoT)” applications will be battery powered…but the near ubiquity of lithium-ion cells powering batteries could be threatened by capacitors and energy-harvesting circuits connected to photovoltaic/thermoelectric/piezoelectric micro-power sources.

With the 2015 SPIE Advanced Lithography (AL) conference around the corner, some people have asked me what remaining EUVL challenges need to be addressed to ensure it will be ready for mass production later this year or next.  Vivek Bakshi of EUV Litho, Inc. provides thoughts on this topic and what he expects to hear at the conference.

Phil Garrou continues his look at presentations from the Grenoble SEMI 3D Summit which took place in January, focusing on an interesting presentation by ATREG consultants on the future of Assembly & Test.

On Tuesday, January 20, President Obama once again stood before a joint session of Congress to deliver a State of the Union Address.  With the newly seated Republican-controlled Congress and his Cabinet present, the President discussed topics ranging from the current state of the economy to foreign affairs and his ideas on how to move the nation forward.  Jamie Girard of SEMI was pleased to hear that the President supported multiple policy goals including expansion of free trade, corporate tax reform, support for basic science research and development and others.

The Week in Review: June 13, 2014

Friday, June 13th, 2014

According to the IMF and predictions by many other market research firms, 2014 and 2015 are expected to be growth years, comparable to or even better than the past few years.

Worldwide shipments of flat-panel televisions rose convincingly in the first quarter of 2014 compared to the same period last year, a stronger-than-expected showing that puts the industry on firm footing for the year, according to a new report from IHS.

Researchers from the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) introduced the highest performing III-V metal-oxide semiconductor (MOS) field-effect transistors (FETs) at the 2014 Symposium on VLSI Technology.

A team of researchers from Purdue University, SEMATECH and SUNY College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering presented at the 2014 Symposium on VLSI Technology on their work involving high-performance molybdenum disulfide field-effect transistors.

Crystal IS, a developer of high-performance ultraviolet (UVC) LEDs, this week announced availability of Optan. The first commercial semiconductor based on native Aluminum Nitride (AIN) substrates, Optan provides a unique technology platform for increased detection sensitivity.

Dow Corning established a higher industry standard for silicon carbide (SiC) crystal quality by introducing a product grading structure that specifies ground-breaking new tolerances on killer device defects, such as micropipe dislocations (MPD), threading screw dislocations (TSD) and basal plane dislocations (BPD).

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