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Following years of research, TNO, working in collaboration with partners at the Holst Centre, is well advanced with a technology that raises the printing of microelectronics to a higher level. Laser based technology is a contactless, digital and laser-controlled technique for depositing both solid and liquid materials on any desired surface. This makes the technology useful for adding microelectronics to lab-on-a-chip applications too.
Laser based technology has already been in existence for some twenty years, but until now no-one had succeeded in using it to add various functions to chips. Moreover, back then the laser technology was far less sophisticated and fairly expensive. Production processes in microelectronics using laser technology can now be made much faster, better and more precise. The technology enables complex functionalities to be added to chips during the production process, opening up a host of fresh opportunities for the industry.
Laser based technology has a wide range of applications for printing electronic circuits: both the conductive materials and the insulation can be printed simultaneously during production without making contact. The ability to print contactless is one of the major benefits of this technology. The technology enables the laser to deposit any desired pattern on the surface in a single pass. It also makes the manufacturer independent of the mechanical movements required in dispensing or inkjet technology – which also only work with liquid materials. With this technology solid materials such as metals can be applied. All in all, this is a technology that provides opportunities for the mass production of flexible electronics.
Adding microelectronics in chips enables consumers to carry out lab tests at home: analysis of blood and other body substances, for example, or other types of diagnosis that would otherwise require the patient to see a doctor or specialist and have samples sent in. The technology also enables sensitive biological materials such as cells to be printed. Laser based technology can build up 3D cells layer by layer while avoiding laser damage, making the technology highly suitable for microfluidics applications. This is a global market that is estimated to be worth some ten billion euros by 2025.
TNO would like to talk to partners willing to invest in this technology. We are also keen to work together with medical biology researchers and companies willing to help develop it into marketable applications.
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