Photonic Curing is an industrial thermal process in which a thin film is heated with pulsed light from a flash lamp. When the film is heated on a substrate, the bulk of the substrate stays relatively cool since the exposure time is so brief (~1ms). When this transient processing is performed on substrates that have relatively low thermal damage threshold, such as plastic or paper, it is possible to attain significantly higher temperatures in the thin film without damaging the substrate than possible with an ordinary oven. Since photonic curing tools quickly cure thin films at high temperature on low temperature substrates, it is ideal for reel-to-reel processes on polymer or paper.
Photonic curing was first developed by NovaCentrix and is incorporated into the PulseForge® set of tools. It has become a transformative process used in the manufacture of printed electronics as it allows inexpensive and flexible substrates to be substituted for traditional glass or ceramic substrates. Additionally, the higher temperature processing afforded by photonic curing reduces the processing time exponentially, often from minutes down to milliseconds, which increases throughput all while maintaining a very tiny machine footprint.
In comparison to traditional thermal processing methods such as ovens and lasers, the higher temperature processing afforded by photonic curing reduces the processing time exponentially -- often from minutes down to milliseconds! Since it cures thin films at high temperature on low temperature substrates, it is ideal for reel-to-reel processes on polymer or paper.
The maturing complexity of modern printed electronics for customer applications demands high throughput manufacturing and improved device function. The functionality of the printed electronics is critically important as customers demand more out of each device. In that order, multiple layers are designed into each device, requiring ever more versatile processing techniques. Photonic curing is uniquely suited to complement the processing needs in the manufacture of modern printed electronics. The photonic curing process can provide a fast, reliable and transformative processing step to meet the most demanding production designs. Photonic curing enables lower thermal processing budget with current materials, and it can provide a path to incorporate more advanced materials and functionality into future printed electronics. In addition to sintering metals and ceramics, photonic curing is also used to dry thin films, modulate chemical reactions, and even anneal ceramics and semiconductors such as Indium Tin Oxide (ITO) and amorphous silicon. As photonic curing continues to become a widely accepted thermal processing technique, the number of applications continues to expand.
It is, but it processes a larger surface area in a small fraction of time when compared to an oven or laser. With a few exceptions is reasonable to say that for processing thin films photonic curing has the performance of laser processing yet the economics of an oven.
Photonic curing was first developed and patented by NovaCentrix in 2005 to address requests to make a low temperature curing silver ink so that electronics could be printed and cured onto low-cost plastic and paper. At the time, we were only a nanoparticle manufacturer that was beginning to make dispersions for the nascent printed electronics industry. What we realized is that instead of a low temperature curing ink, our customers needed a high temperature processing method that would cure any ink without damaging the substrate. As the background of our nanoparticle process used pulsed power and radiation, we developed a variant of that technology to make the world’s first photonic curing prototype system. After we filed our first patents and then approached severalflashlamp manufacturers to make a commercial system for us, our requests were rejected as the requirements were beyond what could have been done at the time NovaCentrix realized that we could manufacture a system in house, and thus the first commercial PulseForge was launched in 2007.