Printed Electronics

We have decades of experience meeting the stringent regulations and certifications for the automotive, aerospace and medical device industries, which serve as benchmarks for all of the products we manufacture.

Purpose

Printed Electronics (PE) is an all-encompassing term for the printing method used to create electronic devices by printing on a variety of substrates. Various printer technologies are able to print circuits inexpensively and timely.

 

As such, the demand for thinner electronics and wearable devices continues to grow, PE is now being used to produce flexible keypads, antennas, tags, batteries, solar panels, photovoltaics, sensory patches, and much more.

 

Printed Electronics is one of the fastest-growing technologies today and has become invaluable to a plethora of industries such as medical, transportation, aerospace, media, consumer, industrial, security, and more.

Benefits

The benefits of using our top-tier interfaces is a long list, but in short: 

R&D Partners & Standards

ALMAX is partnered with SEMI, FlexTech, & NextFlex whom provide a community for printed and flexible electronics manufacturers alike to build upon and transform an ecosystem of successful R&D collaboration. This community enables us to stay ahead of the curve and keep our manufacturing and design practices continually adhered to IPC, ASTM, ISO standards and more. 

Flexible Circuits

Our Flexible Circuits are the core of Printed Electronics, and allow various conductive inks to be screen or digitally printed directly onto various substrates. 

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Conductive inks, as the name suggests, are inks that conduct electricity. They are commonly seen in capacitive and membrane switches, Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags, touch screens, biomedical and electrochemical sensors, Positive Temperature Coefficient (PTC) heaters, electromagnetic interference/radio frequency interference (EMI/RFI) shielding, and more. ALMAX has been manufacturing flexible circuits with conductive inks for over twenty years with inks such as: Micro-Silver, Nano Silver, Nano Copper, Silver-Silver Chloride, PEDOT:PSS, and Carbon.

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While technically not a printed electronic, this is one of the most common ways to manufacture flexible circuits. They are most commonly produced using polyimide(AKA Kapton) as the substrate material, then laminating a thin sheet of copper to the substrate. The copper is then chemically etched away, leaving only the copper traces behind. An additional layer of either polyimide or a traditional solder mask is used to cover all of the circuitry except the gold contacts exposed. Note: for membrane switch contacts, ALMAX prints a layer of carbon ink on top to prevent long-term corrosion and moisture damage.

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PEDOT is remarkable amongst conductive polymers in that not only is it Flexible and Printable, but also Transparent and Conductive. Usually, conductors are opaque due to their chemical composition. PEDOT, on the other hand, permits light to pass through, making it the perfect selection for applications that combine a need for both backlighting and circuitry, such as pairing LEDs with Capacitive Touch Switches.

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Silver/Silver Chloride is typically used to create sensing electrodes in many medical and environmental device applications. It is commonly used for electrochemical measurements, such as in pH meters, electrocardiography (ECG), electroencephalography (EEG), Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS), or in cathodic protection corrosion systems for sea water environments and more.

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Substrates (or Dielectrics) for flexible circuits are thin, heat-resistant, and flexible materials that are typically made of polymers such as polyimide and polyethylene terephthalate (PET). It is the material that replaces the Dielectrics used in rigid circuit boards, namely, FR4. Flexible substrate materials are used throughout the world in many different industries and sectors for a myriad of applications and technologies.

Hybrid Electronics

An FHE circuit is an elegant compromise that uses printed conductive circuits, interconnects, antennas, and/or sensors, while still allowing the mounting of complex components such as integrated circuits. The overarching principle is perhaps best expressed as ‘print what you can, place what you can’t.’ 

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One of the options ALMAX uses to mount components on FHEs is the use of conductive adhesives and epoxys. This replaces the need to mount components with solder reflow like traditional rigid circuit boards do. For basic implementations such as passives and components with simple pinouts, ALMAX uses Isotropic Conductive Adhesives (ICAs) which are capable of conducting in all directions. Anisotropic Conducting Adhesives (ACAs) are used for more advanced implementations, see the Flying Leads & Wire Bonds section for more information.

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While we generally recommend sticking with conductive adhesives which are more stable, an alternative on some applications may require the use of a low-temperature solder. Although, more innovative approaches for low temp solders are still under development which may make this a more applicable choice in the future. 

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For advanced Flexible Hybrid Electronics, Thinned Silicone Wafers are used to create thinned silicon dies that are complex in function, but still flexible enough to support the bendability needed for flexible circuits and wearables. Every year the research and development of this process continues to advance and allow for thinner and thinner levels of integration into the flexible circuit world.

Printed Components

Printed Components are electronic components that can be made by being printed directly to substrates such as flexible displays, batteries, photovoltaics, antennas, solar panels, and more.

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ALMAX is partnered up with Ynvisible allowing us to manufacture their printed Electrochromic Displays ("ECDs") which are based on organic electrochromic polymers. It is categorized as a reflective display - meaning that it reflects ambient light instead of using a backlight. The displays are screen-printed on a plastic substrate, which makes the displays very thin and flexible.

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A complete battery uses a set of proprietary electrochemical inks and electrode materials that have been designed to work with large-scale printing equipment; It starts by printing a multi-layer device stack to produce each battery and this is done on continuous sheets or rolls. Since all the layers in the batteries are bonded together, the battery is very durable when flexed – an important requirement for small cells subjected to tough everyday wear. And since the cells are printed, they can be produced in most any shape and size to meet specific project design needs.

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Antennas are a conductive electronic component, that radiates and/or receives electromagnetic energy usually in the radio frequency spectrum or thereabouts. An aerial on an RFID tag or interrogator, for example. All RFID interrogators have antennas as do most RFID tags. They are increasingly printed, usually with silver ink, the resolution and conductance required for adequate performance being more onerous the lower the frequency. Antennas for other uses are also sometimes printed. Ink makers are developing better silver inks that can be printed at high speed yet achieve adequate conductance in one pass. It may be possible to reduce cost further by eliminating silver from antenna inks.

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Flexible Printed Heaters are simply warming elements that are screen printed on flexible materials. Through the precise control of design elements and the deposition of functional inks, flexible printed heaters can be made to specific operating parameters. To create these unique heater applications; a full range of conductive, resistive, and positive temperature coefficient inks are used in combination with flexible substrates such as polyester (PET), polyimide (PI), Kapton ® RS Conductive Film, and thermoplastic polyurethanes (TPU).

In-Mold Electronics

In-Mold Electronics (IME) takes Printed Electronics to the next level by taking printed flexible circuits and thermoforming them into specific shapes to make a perfect fit against the mounting location. IME typically goes hand in hand with In-Mold Decorating which is a 3D molded overlay that the In-Mold Electronics mount directly to.

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In-Mold Electronics leverages the benefits of printed electronics and in-mold decorating to create smart surfaces and 3 dimensional user interfaces. A multi-layer construction includes both graphics and electronic circuitry that is permanently fused to plastic during the in-mold decorating process. This creates an integrated touch interface that reduces cost, components, and complexity. Best of all, it provides manufacturers with the futuristic touch interfaces their customers want.

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Our In Mold Decoration (IMD) solutions combine the high quality printing capabilities of PC foil and the benefits of 3D plastic injection. In Mold Decoration designs allow a large variety of printed colors, textures and finishes all decorated on second surface of the foil, while providing superior reliability, life time abrasion and environmental resistance.

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In-Mold Decorating and Electronics can be combined to make some of the most aesthetically pleasing backlighting compositions.

Wearables

Although technically different, Wearables and E-Textiles share common goals and similar materials. Wearables are focused on clothing and accessories to be worn by people, while E-Textiles works with directly integrating electronics into the fabric materials of products such as automotive seats and furniture etc. Both share similar manufacturing processes and can become intertwined depending on the application at hand.

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Wearables are fabrics that enable electronic components such as sensors, heaters, lights, and electronics to be embedded in them. Because of the ability of the ink and substrate to flex and stretch, embedded sensors and circuits will conform to the body’s curvature and not hinder movement. Since these sensors are printed on thin films, very little weight is added to the fabric through the incorporation of this exciting new technology. Circuits are printed on thin substrates that can be heat transferred to textiles using traditional equipment in the garment decorating industry.

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Electronic textiles or e-textiles (often confounded with smart textiles) are fabrics that enable digital components such as a battery and a light (including small computers), and electronics to be embedded in them. "Smart textiles" are fabrics that have been developed with new technologies that provide added value to the wearer. Generally, we consider something to be an e-textile when it contains conductive threads that are sewn or embroidered into fabric.

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Conductive thread can carry current the same way that wires can, which means it can be used to create a circuit. This allows the user to sew a circuit together, creating flexible circuits that require no soldering. In some textile-based projects, this is the most practical tool to maintain the hang of the fabric.

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