DKN Research Newsletter from Japan & Asia - RTR (Roll to Roll) Electronics
Jun 11, 2012
Roll to Roll Electronics (RTR) is not a new technology, but is now becoming more popular thanks to university professors and industry Medias.
These groups can be catalysts to help create a buzz with electronic technologies, even those technologies that have been around for a while such as
printable electronics, flexible electronics, organic electronics, plastic electronics, carbon electronics, elastic electronics and transparent electronics. The manufacturing process of the month in Japan seems to be RTR (Roll to Roll) Electronics. The increase in interest is fueled by industry media groups who began releasing special reports and organizing seminars about the RTR process. Surprisingly, I was recognized as an expert with RTR Electronics, and have I have received a lot of inquiries about this new electronics. I have delivered about a dozen speeches at conferences and provided articles to various news agencies about RTR Electronics over the last two years, but I still question wither the new electronics can add any new value.
The technology is not very new to me because I have been working with it since the early 1980s. It was developed as a series of processing technologies to provide a low cost solution with flexible circuits manufacturing. It is not a single unit manufacturing machine; it includes various combinations of different processing equipments such as lamination, coating, sputtering, various photo-lithography and printing technologies, many kinds of wet processes, plating, laser abrasion and mechanical treatments such as punching and drilling. Many common processing technologies are still used, and include conveyer systems, 3D alignment, dimension control, tension control and edge position control of the unstable and flexible material. These technologies could be available for use in volume productions for new flexible devices with appropriate modifications from the original RTR equipment.
The group that is asking most of the questions about RTR Electronics is machine suppliers. They ask specific questions as well as open ended questions. For example, I heard the following questions asked a few different times: What is the largest width of the rolls, what is the fastest line speed for the RTR processes, and what kinds of dimensional accuracies are required for flexible devices? Some of these questions had me wondering whether these suppliers knew the basic capabilities of the RTR manufacturing systems or not. Maybe some of them are considering selling specific equipment related to RTR manufacturing, specifically targeting the growing flexible electronics segment that includes flexible photovoltaic cell devices and touch panel screens. Unfortunately, this concept may fail because a balance for the entire manufacturing process has to be considered. Generally, an automated RTR manufacturing system does not provide a perfect solution to produce flexible electronic devices. Usually, there are many labor consuming manual processes associated with an RTR process. Even though the RTR process can reduce costs for the first half of manufacturing process, it is not practical if there are more labor costs during the manual process that follows. I believe they should determine why the first generation RTR manufacturing systems prepared for flexible circuits failed during 1980s, and build from that. From what I can determine, the new RTR manufacturing systems designed for new flexible electronic devices is repeating the same mistakes that were made quarter century ago.
Dominique K. Numakura
Headlines of the week
JFE Steel (Major steel supplier in Japan) 5/25
Has decided to close the silicon wafer business for photovoltaic cells because of the pessimistic market forecast and extreme price down.
Kyowa Cable (Cable manufacturer in Japan) 5/31
Has developed a new light weight & heat resistant aluminum wires insulated with FEP or ETFE. The conductors are coated with tin for easy soldering.
AGC (Major glass material supplier in Japan) 5/30
Has developed a new bonding process of ultra thin glass sheets on career glass substrate. It is available for current process of LCD panel manufacturers.
Mitsubishi Chemical (Major chemical company in Japan) 6/4
Has co-developed a new large size OLED panel for lighting sources using simple EL coating process with Pioneer.
DNP (Major printing company in Japan) 6/5
Has developed a new RTR manufacturing process of LCD color filters using thin flexible glass substrates.
Japan Display (Display manufacturer in Japan) 6/5
Has developed a new high resolution 2.3" LCD with 39micron pixel pitch (651 ppi). It is almost double compared to current displays of smart phones.
Zytronic (Device manufacturer in UK) 6/5
Has unveiled a new multi touch solution system with projection type electronic capacitance mechanism for ultra large size displays.
DNP (Major printing company in Japan) 6/6
Has unveiled new high multi-layer boards (12~14 layer) with embedded components for smart phone applications.
Sharp (Major electronics company in Japan) 6/6
Has commercialized the industry smallest gamma ray sensor module "QM1H0M005x" using its own photodiode.
Dai-Nippon Screen (Major equipment supplier in Japan) 6/7
Has developed a new optical inspection system for transparent electrode patterns of touch panel screens.