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Precision Alignment of Roll-to-Roll Printing of Flexible Paper Electronics

July 1, 2019

MIE Assistant Professors Xiaoning "Sarah" Jin and Hongli Zhu were awarded a $544K NSF grant for "Manufacturing USA: Precision Alignment of Roll-to-Roll Printing of Flexible Paper Electronics Through Modeling and Virtual Sensor-based Control".

Abstract Source NSF:

Demand is increasing for advanced manufacturing technologies that can print electronics accurately and at high speed. Roll-to-Roll printing techniques that can continuously transfer a printed electronic pattern onto a flexible substrate are very promising for high-volume production of flexible electronic devices. However, there is a significant challenge to overcome, which is that multilayer printed electronics have very tight alignment tolerance requirements, and there are no reliable tools available to monitor and control the overlay registration accuracy in real-time. To overcome this challenge, this award develops precision alignment of roll-to-roll printing using modeling and virtual sensor-based control. Another challenge is the overwhelming use of plastic as the substrate, which are manufactured from petroleum-based materials and therefore are not biodegradable, making them environmentally hazardous to produce and dispose. To address these challenges, this award pursues paper substrates as recyclable and environmentally friendly alternatives to plastic for flexible electronics. This interdisciplinary project transcends the boundaries of several important fields, including advanced materials engineering, cyber-manufacturing and data analytics. The knowledge attained from this project helps catalyze new technologies in nano and micro additive printing that feed into the innovation pipelines of the Manufacturing USA Institutes. The outcomes of this research benefit next-generation ecologically-friendly flexible electronics, such as, greener disposable sensors for patient care or lower-cost embedded home electronics. Educational activities promote interdisciplinary capstone projects and increase students? hands-on learning experience in manufacturing research. This supports the nationwide effort in educating the next generation manufacturing engineers.

The goal of this project is to advance the fundamental understanding of roll-to-roll (R2R) printing of functional paper electronics. The study involves understanding the mechanism for spatial variation generation and its propagation and accumulation. The knowledge on spatial error propagation is used to develop virtual sensing to achieve unprecedented control in the creation, integration and manipulation of multilayer microstructures that form the foundation of printed paper electronics. Furthermore, this project studies materials-process-control-device performance relationships in a closed loop approach. This research expedites intelligent R2R systems with high traceability, predictability and controllability for high-resolution additive printing of flexible paper electronics, enabling a host of technologies spanning sensing, biomedical devices, and renewable energy. The development of R2R printing of electronics on paper ushers in a new era of environmentally-friendly, flexible paper devices such as water quality sensors at throwaway prices.