The fields of printed electronics and nanotechnology are filled with tremendous opportunities for companies that are able to develop strong products and scale-up these products. However, in many cases, the move from R&D to scale-up has been a treacherous one, leaving companies and products by the wayside.
“Typically, nanotechnology is treated like a science project, and is not necessarily scalable,” said Steve Leach, CEO of NovaCentrix. “Being able to produce high volume, discrete silver and copper nanoparticles is one of our core strengths. We do nanometals very well.”
NovaCentrix also specializes in equipment, creating another key advantage for its customers. The company’s photonic curing system, using xenon strobe lighting, is ideal for sintering conductive inks. This photonic curing technology rapidly heats and fuses nanoscale metallic inks without heating the underlying substrate.
By reducing curing time to less than a millisecond, photonic curing is compatible with high-speed printing processes such as gravure and flexography without a large amount of dedicated floor space. In essence, the time to cure becomes matched to the time to print.
“Photonic curing is a new approach to curing conductive inks,” Mr. Leach said. “The biggest issue right now for printed electronics is to get inks to sinter and to be conductive at high speeds. With our photonic curing system, the inks absorb the light energy, the nanoparticles melt and re-sinter, whether it is on paper, plastic or flexible low-cost substrates. Photonic curing removes this hurdle.”
NovaCentrix’s stature as a leading materials, products and equipment manufacturer is also driven by its ability to produce the world’s most sought after nanoscale metals including silver, copper and aluminum, among others. By also developing expertise in equipment and materials, NovaCentrix has been able to move forward much more quickly with new products and applications, including its Metalon inks, a full portfolio of nanoscale silver and copper metal inks for printable electronics applications.
“Given we are vertically integrated, we are able to test dozens of variables beforehand, thus saving our customers valuable time in the design iteration process,” Mr. Leach said. “We discovered a lot about what our products do and don’t do as we developed conductive inks, and we have been fine-tuning our synthesis process to get enhanced performance. We are just now in commercial trials with a number of different companies with our inks and our photonic curing systems.”
One key customer is Pliant Corporation, a global leader in value-added films and packaging solutions, which formed an alliance with NovaCentrix. One result was Secure Stretch Wrap for pallets based on a flexible, stretchable nanosilver ink which offers 150 percent stretch while maintaining conductivity, a feat not possible with other conductive inks.
As a result of its successes, NovaCentrix has been earning much favorable attention. For example, NovaCentrix was ranked in the top 25 percent of nanotechnology startups in 2006, according to Lux Research, a nanotechnology and physical sciences market intelligence firm.
The markets for printed electronics and nanotechnology are indeed growth areas, and Mr. Leach sees a bright future ahead for NovaCentrix.
“There is tremendous innovation at hand, and we are seeing a lot of interest from a broad spectrum of printed electronics customers,” Mr. Leach said. “By combining our inks and equipment, we can solve our customers’ problems. Byutilizing a classical marketing approach, we determine the unmet needs of the market and look for creative ways to meet these needs. We envision the products needed and then produce them. By 2012, conductive metal inks are projected to be a billon-dollar market, and we’re at the tipping point for this emerging market.”