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$9.6m boost for multi-nozzle 3D printed electronics

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By Nick Flaherty


Swiss startup Scrona has raised $9.6m to develop ultra-high resolution multi-nozzle print heads for 3D printing systems in semiconductor manufacturing and other areas.

The company has already developed a system using its electrostatic technology with multiple single nozzle print heads for R&D but will use funding to commercialise multi-nozzle print heads built in a clean room at the company headquarters in Zurich.

Rather than using piezoelectric heads like traditional inkjets, the technology, developed at research lab ETH, uses electrodes to pull tiny drops from a capillary and accelerate these over a distance of 5mm. This enables a resolution of under 0.5µm with many different types of material says Patrick Galliker, co-founder and CEO of Scrona. This is 100 times the resolution of other systems and ten times faster.

“It’s not a 3D printing technology that is just looking at conventional markets creating geometric forms but semiconductor and display manufacturing to build very precise electronic structures,” Galliker tellls eeNews Europe.

3D printing

“The concept is the same, ejecting droplets of ink, but these inks are different, they could be metal nanoparticles, insulating or dielectric materials, semiconductor materials or even biomolecules.”

“One of the biggest problems of printed electronics is that it is gated by the printing technology which was never made for semiconductor technology,” he said. “The problem is the place where the piezo element sits and you have to bring the energy to the nozzle exit as the smaller the nozzle becomes the more difficult it is and limits the viscosity. With our technology we start from the outside. In our case the actuation elements sit outside the ‘nozzle’ and are not in contact with the liquid. We are using the electrical properties of the liquids and that forces the movement of the liquid and this pulls the droplet from the tip.”

“An electrohydrodynamic process is used to eject the droplets, and we are the first ones that have managed to do that,” he said.

This enables thousands of nozzles to be printed on a silicon wafer using MEMS production techniques, with 10,000 nozzles on a square centimetre.

Printed electronics

The initial target market is high value semiconductor, module and printed circuit board manufacturing equipment, including display panel manufacturing which already uses inject printing techniques.

For example, the resolution and layer thickness control of Scrona’s technology enables printing of quantum dot RGB colour filters for high-brightness, full-colour micro LED displays in augmented reality glasses for gaming and metaverse applications.

The technology was tested out in an R&D system with 40 single nozzles to test different liquids, each with own reservoir of one microlitre.

“We have customers using the print heads as we built a printing system ourselves and sold to R&D companies but we don’t want to go into sales mode as this is not a scalable market,” he said. “So we are collaborating with Notion Systems in Switzerland and they will take over the sales and marketing of the printing system.”

But the company has shifted direction to focus on production of the print head.

“We used ETH and the IBM Zurich Nanotech Centre for the manufacturing of print heads but  in the last few months we have brought all our manufacturing to our Class 6 clean room with 120m2 in Zurich for production,” he said. “The process we have set up is adapted to our manufacturing environment with 4in wafers and probably going to 6in.”

Production

“We focus on the print head and the printing technology itself and we try to add everything around it to introduce the technology to the market with partners,” said Galliker. “Some companies have high performance materials but the printing technology to put them on a substrate is not there, and we are also working with equipment companies to put our print heads in their systems.”

“The way we build the print head is highly customisable, so we can build one for semiconductors, or one for PCBs or for displays, as we keep the product fairly generic. Our Generation 1000 head will have 1000 individually controlled nozzles and we aim to have that ready by 2024 for tier one equipment companies,” he said.

The electrostatic technique can also be used to print biomaterials for producing more sophisticated lab-on-a-chip and medical sensors.

Funding

The Series A round was led by AM Ventures with syndicate partners including TRUMPF Venture, Verve Ventures and industrial equipment maker Manz. The $9.6 million includes $6.7 million from Series A funding and $2.9 million from a grant by Swiss Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI).

“There is enormous potential of the Scrona technology in additive manufacturing because its technology can process materials that are simply not processable with other printheads today, “ said Johann Oberhofer, Managing Partner at AM Ventures. “The combination of the highest resolution and the ability to overcome restrictions around high-performance materials of current processes is unique.»

www.Scrona.ch

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