Ink Inc

UniPixel's Flexible Conductive Films Find Opportunities in the Marketplace

By David Savastano, Ink World Editor | 06.04.12

Roll-to-roll processing of conductive materials is quickly becoming adopted among producers of printed electronics. Indium tin oxide, or ITO, has been the standard approach used for producing transparent conductors. However, ITO also has numerous disadvantages, including cost, future availability, brittleness and flexibility.

This is where UniPixel, Inc.’s Performance Engineered Films come in. Headquartered in The Woodlands, TX, UniPixel, Inc. was founded on a novel display technology called TMOS (Time Multiplexed Optical Shutter). The company opted to license its TMOS technology, but saw opportunities for other technologies that it discovered along the way, notably on the inkjet side.

Rather than using a UV curable coat as a protective layer, UniPixel forms a template that uses UV curable materials to produce a 5 to 10 micron line width grid, which serves as a transparent, flexible pattern for conductive nano inks. This allows the user to replace ITO-coated glass with a flexible conductive film, which offers numerous advantages, including the ability to print roll-to-roll on any film, foil or paper.

“After eight years of development, we decided to license that technology to Rambus Inc., but kept all the film micro embossing and printing technology for our internal products,” said Dr. Robert Petcavich, UniPixel, Inc.’s chief technology officer, senior vice president and general manager. “During the TMOS development, we had to learn how to inkjet very fine conductive lines of 5 microns or less.

“That know-how was sufficient for small scale batch processing, but not large scale roll-to-roll printing,” Dr. Petcavich added. “But the knowledge we gained from that exercise taught us a lot about inks and printing, which we translated into a roll-to-roll process.”

It takes a wide background of knowledge to successfully achieve this breakthrough, and UniPixel’s R&D team has a multi-disciplinary approach.

“What is different about UniPixel is that we are a multi-disciplined engineering, materials science, polymer chemistry and manufacturing team that is able to translate lab ideas into large-scale manufacturing in an expedient manner,” Dr. Petcavich noted. “We have not run across any similar teams after visits to dozens of customers, suppliers or vendors during the past few years.”

By micro or nano-embossing UV curable films, UniPixel has also developed anti-fingerprint and security films, as well as Diamond Guard, a high performance, hard flexible coating now being targeted as a protective layer for devices such as touch screens. Because of its innovative use of UV curable materials and coatings, UniPixel received the RadTech Emerging Technology Award during RadTech 2012.

“Our Performance Engineered Films have the right balance of optical and electrical properties, which allows them to be used in high-end display applications such as multi-touch sensors, back lights and protective cover films that can replace glass and ITO-coated glass in many applications,” Dr. Petcavich said.

The demand for this technology is strong, as end-users from a wide variety of products see potential applications. UniPixel has targeted mobile phone and computer touch screens, laptops and all-in-one computer cover glass, as well as RFID antennas and photovoltaic electrodes. Dr. Petcavich said that the reaction from end-users indicates that UniPixel is indeed on the right track toward success.

“We have been overwhelmed from potential customers from all over the world to take their touch sensor designs and fabricate transparent touch sensors that eliminate the use of indium tin oxide-based transparent conductors,” Dr. Petcavich concluded.