Electronics Manufacturing Image
The process produces high-performance flexible electronics with results as good as, if not better, than conventional silicon-based electronics. (Credit: University of Glasgow)

A new method for manufacturing electronics that prints high-performance silicon directly onto flexible materials could lead to breakthroughs in technologies including prosthetics, high-end electronics, and fully bendable digital displays.

The researchers have removed the second stage of the conventional transfer printing process. Instead of transferring nanostructures to a soft polymeric stamp before it is transferred to the final substrate, their new process what they call direct roll transfer to print silicon straight onto a flexible surface.

The process begins with the fabrication of a thin silicon nanostructure of less than 100 nm. Then the receiving substrate — a flexible, high-performance plastic foil material called polyimide — is covered in an ultrathin layer of chemicals to improve adhesion.

The prepared substrate is wrapped around a metal tube, and a computer-controlled machine developed by the team then rolls the tube over the silicon wafer, transferring it to the flexible material.

By carefully optimizing the process, the team has managed to create highly uniform prints over an area of about 10 sq cm, with around 95 percent transfer yield — significantly higher than most conventional transfer printing processes at the nanometer scale.