Jan 15, 2018 | By Benedict

Researchers from Michigan Technological University have developed an open-source parametric 3D printed slot die system for thin film semiconductor processing. By using the 3D printed system over a commercial one, users could make cost savings of over 17,000 per cent.

Modified 3D printed X-carriage for slot die system

Slot die coating is a technology used to deposit a variety of liquid chemicals onto glass, stainless steel, or plastic substrates. Its myriad applications include solar photovoltaic cells, flat panel displays (LCD, OLED, and flexible), solid state lighting, and printed electronics sensors. The coating method can also be used to produce RFID tags, fuel cells, and lithium ion batteries.

It’s a useful technology, but a slot die itself can be prohibitively expensive, often around $4,000, due to machining costs. This means researchers and manufacturers are often unable to take advantage of the deposition process.

To solve this problem, researchers from Michigan Tech’s Open Sustainability Tech Lab—L.Y. Beeker, Adam M. Pringle, and Joshua M. Pearce—have used a 3D printer to fabricate a DIY slot die that costs around 25 cents.

According to the researchers, the 3D printed slot die is around 17,000 per cent cheaper than a commercial one, which makes the research potentially highly significant in the field of slot die coating.

But the convenience doesn’t end at cost: using an additional 3D printed syringe pump, an ordinary 3D printer can then be converted into a slot die system, utilizing the newly printed slot die to provide an ultra-affordable means of liquid chemical deposition. This means very few pieces of equipment need to be sourced to create the budget system.

In addition to being a highly affordable means of slot die coating, the 3D printed (and printer-utilizing) system has many advantages. Lead times are shorter, yields are higher (than other technologies like spin coating), customization can be achieved, and the system can even be scaled up into a roll-to-roll deposition system.

Modified Prusa Mendel RepRap

To publicize their findings, the researchers have published a paper, “Open-source Parametric 3-D Printed Slot Die System for Thin Film Semiconductor Processing,” in the journal Additive Manufacturing.

As the $4,000 price tag suggests, conventional slot dies generally require expensive machining because of their complex inner geometry—a state of affairs that limits accessibility to and experimentation with slot die systems.

To overcome these issues of cost, the Michigan Tech study follows an open hardware approach, using an open source 3D printer to both make elements of the system and then function as part of the system.

During the development process, the researchers were faced with a few tricky stages, including the selecting of materials and of a suitable 3D printer. Regarding the former, the researchers knew they would not be able to use stainless steel with their FDM 3D printer, but instead had to use a polymer. Several materials were tested, including PLA, ABS, and HIPS, and the final choice was PETG. The chosen 3D printer was an Athena version of the Prusa Mendel i1 RepRap.

According to the researchers, the study showed that functional lab-grade slot dies can be 3D printed using low-cost, open-source hardware methods, and their analysis confirms their beliefs: the researchers found that semiconductors made using the printed slot die had an RMS value 0.486 nm, a thickness of 17 to 49 nm, and a maximum optical transmission of 99.1 per cent.

The researchers say the 3D printing process can also produce, in addition to viable polymer-based slot dies, viable layers of advanced electronic materials, coatings, and layered composites.

Excitingly, the research can now be built upon by other scientists, since the open-source parametric model of the slot die, designed by the Michigan Tech team using OpenSCAD, allows for basic geometries to be altered and customized for a given experiment and printed in just a few hours.

The researchers think the process will be useful to researchers studying thin films, and also those in the commercial sector: the ultra-affordable 3D printed system could result in low-cost, scaled-up manufacturing.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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Obvious Math wrote at 1/18/2018 5:05:06 PM:

That is not how you calculate cost savings. (Pi - Pf) / Pi = % Savings For it to be a cost savings it has to be a value between 0% and 100%. If it's a negative value then it was a price increase, if it's 0% then it did not change in price, and if it's 100% then it is free. The only way to exceed 100% is if you are being paid to receive the part ("well this phone used to be $100, but if you take it off my hands I'll give you the phone and $1" -> 101% savings. If you find one of these deals, let me know.)

Wilfried Bittner wrote at 1/17/2018 11:47:21 AM:

I'm 17,000% sure that their math is flawed.

Wilfried Bittner wrote at 1/17/2018 11:45:37 AM:

I'm 17,000% sure that their math is flawed.

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