New Silver Ink Developed by Xerox

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The inkjet ink will print conductive circuitry even on fabric, say the company’s scientists.

By Jack Kenny

Scientists at Xerox have created a new silver ink that they say will pave the way for commercialization and low-cost manufacturing of printable electronics. The ink, which they describe as “a silver bullet,” can be applied to plastics as well as fabrics for conductive circuitry. “This development will aid the commercialization of new applications such as ‘smart’ pill boxes that track how much medication a patient has taken, or display screens that roll up to fit into a briefcase,” said Paul Smith, laboratory manager at the Xerox Research Center of Canada, in Mississauga, ON.

The product was introduced recently at the Printed Electronics Europe Conference in Dresden, Germany.

“For years, there’s been a global race to find a low-cost way to manufacture plastic circuits,” Smith said. “We’ve found the silver bullet that could make things like electronic clothing and inexpensive games a reality today. This breakthrough means that the industry now has the capability to print electronics on a wider range of materials and at a lower cost.”

The ink is applied using conventional inkjet printing methods, Indeed, Xerox maintains that it has used the silver ink with desktop inkjet printers. The company says that its expectation is that the ink will be applied using continuous-feed printers on rolls rather than sheets.

The scientists report that the ink is formulated so that its molecules align precisely in a configuration that is optimal for conducting electricity.

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 silicon chip fabricating factories. By creating a silver ink to print the conductor, Xerox has developed all three of the materials necessary for printing plastic circuits.

Using the 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.

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.

“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,” said Hadi Mahabadi, vice president and manager of Xerox Research Center of Canada. “We are taking this technology to product developers to enable them to design tomorrow’s uses for printable electronics.”

Headquartered in Norwalk, CT, USA, Xerox employs 54,000 people worldwide.

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